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Social media companies raise concerns over Election Commission’s voluntary code of ethics

Google, Facebook, and ByteDance (which operates TikTok and Helo) have reached out the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) to raise concerns about how to proceed with the voluntary code of ethics set by the Election Commission of India (ECI), for upcoming state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, and Delhi, reports The Economic Times.

On September 3, ECI had sent letters to the social media companies including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google, ShareChat and ByteDance, via IAMAI, to follow the voluntary code of ethics. Following this Google, Facebook, and ByteDance reached out to IAMAI seeking clarity on the same. The ECI has not given any confirmation about when the elections will be held in the poll-bound states. However, 5-year terms of state assemblies in Haryana and Maharashtra are set to end in November 2019, Jharkhand in January 2020 and Delhi in February 2020.

IAMAI is finalising a separate takedown process with the ECI for the upcoming state elections, according to ET. These social media companies are concerned that too many takedown notices from multiple officials may cause confusion, as against the centralised process that was followed during the general elections. The technology companies are also worried that ECI might “extend these rules to municipal and panchayat elections as well”.

Some of the social media companies told IAMAI that restrictions on a political advertisement for 48 hours prior to voting day should be extended to other internet companies and should not only be restricted to them. Also, some of the social media companies want rules to be stricter to ensure compliance.

Code of conduct during Lok Sabha elections

In March, the ECI had prepared a code of conduct, which included the following-

  • Mechanism for notification: Social media firms developed a notification mechanism through which the EC could inform them of potential violations related to the ban on advertising, broadcasting speeches or rallies by political parties during elections.
  • Action within 3 hours for violations of 48-hour silent period: For reported violations by the social media company, prohibiting political parties and candidates from campaigning in the two days before voting – platforms should acknowledge and/or process these legal orders within 3 hours.
  • Pre-certification of political advertisers: The code required platforms to provide a method for political advertisers to submit pre-certificates issued by ECI or its Media Certification & Monitoring Committee (MCMC) for running election-related ads. The codes stated, “Platforms will commit to facilitating transparency in paid political advertisements, including utilising their pre-existing labels/disclosure technology for such advertisements”.
  • Communication between the ECI, IAMAI, and platforms: Platforms should update the ECI (via the IAMAI) on measures they have taken to prevent abuse of their platforms, pursuant to legal requests by the ECI.
  • Awareness and education campaigns: The members had to carry out information, education and communication campaigns to build awareness including electoral laws and other related instructions.
  • Training nodal officers: Platforms had to train their nodal officers to the ECI on their products, and on the mechanism for sending requests to the platforms as per the procedure established by law.

900 posts removed during Lok Sabha elections by ECI

In May, social media companies including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp had to remove more than 900 posts from their platforms during the Lok Sabha elections. Facebook removed 650 posts, Twitter deleted 220 tweets and ShareChat had to remove 31 posts. In addition, 5 YouTube videos were removed and 3 WhatsApp service users were disabled after ECI flagged them.

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