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Karnataka HC Issues Notice to Election Commission in Plea Seeking Guidelines on Tech-Enabled Voter Manipulation: Report

The petitioners argued that the Election Commission of India’s current Model Code of Conduct for holding elections lacked measures to curb this 21st-century innovation in voter bribery, and requested new guidelines.

The Karnataka High Court recently issued notice to India’s election watchdog in a plea seeking guidelines to curb technology-related voter manipulation tactics, just months before the country heads to the polls, The Hindu reported on Friday. 

The Public Interest Litigation was filed by four politicians who were defeated during their assembly election runs in the southern state last year. They alleged that just before polling started, the Indian National Congress distributed around 60,000 “plastic digital gift cards” to “gullible” electorates in a minimum of 42 constituencies. The sitting MLA for Ramanagara constituency admitted to distributing these cards too, although many could not be encashed as they were allegedly fake. 

The petitioners argued that the Election Commission of India’s current Model Code of Conduct for holding elections lacked measures to curb this 21st-century innovation in voter bribery, and requested new guidelines to curb “technology-induced corruption”. The “Karnataka model” shouldn’t be repeated by other parties, they added. 

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Who were the four petitioners?: Nikhil Kumar K., who represents the Janata Dal (Secular), and is also the son of former Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. He is accompanied by politicians Goutham Gowda M., Prasad K.R., and A. Manjunath. 

What else can the Commission do to protect voters from tech-enabled poll tactics?: Outside of this specific case, another concern raised of late is the use of deep fakes by parties to spread misinformation on other candidates, or simply to increase their reach amongst the electorate. This requires specific action (and restriction) by the Election Commission of India as well—although whether it can tackle a flood of misinformation remains to be seen. For example, while speaking at MediaNama’s “Deep Fakes and Democracy” event, author Shivam Shankar Singh recalled how the regulator set up a mechanism to tackle misinformation on social media platforms during the 2019 general elections:

“When a political party really wanted to spread a certain piece [of misinformation], they actually flooded the election commission stream itself,” Singh said. “So, the election commission was so inundated with complaints and reports and this and that, that they themselves were able to forward very few of them to the platforms [to take down]…[in this case] how many people can the election commission really deploy for something like this [regulating deep fakes]? It could be thousands and thousands of pieces of content generated every day with something like deep fake technology itself. Generative AI, the entire point is that the cost of generation is like pretty negligible. In such a circumstance, the election commission just stands no chance.”

Read more

  • How Deep Fakes Could Lead To Greater Misinformation In The Upcoming Elections #NAMA
  • Explainer: Why Detecting Deepfakes Is A Challenging Problem #NAMA
  • How Can The Government And Companies Regulate Spread Of Deep Fakes? #NAMA

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