Election Code and New Age Media Social media platforms Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, ShareChat, TikTok and the IAMAI have agreed to a voluntary code of ethics to abide by during the Lok Sabha Elections 2019, which are set to begin on April 11. The code came into effect on March 20 and will remain in force throughout the elections. Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said although the code is a good beginning, its “essentially a work in making”. The general election will see global and Indian social media outlets following the ‘voluntary code’ on taking down ‘problematic content’ and bringing ‘transparency in political advertising’. Almost a third of India’s 900 million voters are active on social media, making this one of the worlds biggest ever attempts to monitor internet content. According to the code, companies will have three hours to take down objectionable content in the silent period of 48 hours before polling. On this edition of the big picture, we will analyse the election code and New Age Media.

Why has the code been introduced?

  • There have been many instances around the world where social media has influenced the elections.
  • The US elections were said to be influenced by Russia where the latter hacked information pertaining to some candidates and published it through the social media thus turning the election results in Trump’s favour.

What are the problems of the code?

  • The voluntary code of ethics is valid only for three months after which the Election Commission will not monitor social media.
  • The code says that any objectionable content found in the social media would be removed within 3 hours which is mentioned as a voluntary step and not a binding step.
  • 3 hours is more than enough for content to go viral in social media.
  • The EC does not say anything on what if they are not able to remove the content.
  • The code does not include voluntary removal of content but only those which are brought to their notice.
  • Any political advertisement should be pre-approved by the EC. All these are steps towards compliance of Model Code of Conduct.
  • Advertisements in groups, fan pages etc need not be pre-approved by the EC which is a loophole in the voluntary code of ethics.
  • There is no criterion to decide what constitutes fake news or alternative views, rumours etc.
  • Manipulation by foreign agencies, their propaganda, their content etc. is neither defined nor monitored. There may be content which is not fake in the uploaded content but which will disrupt the social harmony during elections.

Challenges in implementing the code

  • Social media is a vast platform on which transmission of data is uncontrollable.
  • There is no way of verifying whether the content is genuine or fake.
  • There are contents in the social media which require Election Commission to monitor the content which is practically impossible as the EC is engrossed in the conduct of elections.
  • Activists contend that monitoring of social media would amount to contravention of free speech which is guaranteed as a fundamental right by the Constitution.

How can the problems be tackled?

  • A lot of problems can be tackled based on the perceptivity of the reader. If the person reading the information has adequate knowledge to analyse what is being read and what should be perceived and what should be shared, then half the problem gets solved.
  • The users should exercise their discretion to understand what is being uploaded in social media.
  • Elections decide the government who should rule on the people for 5 years which are the nucleus of a parliamentary form of government. So monitoring of social media, even though if it amounts to violation of free speech, should be done as it’s a small step to achieve a larger goal.
  • Moreover, the content being monitored od open source content and not private content.
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