Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announcing the schedule for the Bihar Assembly Elections 2020 at a press conference, in New Delhi on Friday.

Bihar polls: CEC warns social media firms

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora on Friday mentioned that social media firms can be held accountable in the event that they fail to make ample preparations to counter misuse and don’t take immediate motion towards antagonistic posts forward of the Bihar meeting elections.

“Adverse use of social media platforms has emerged as a new challenge in recent times,” Arora mentioned. “If adequate arrangements aren’t made to counter the misuse of the social media, then they (social media companies) will not be allowed to take pretext of being only a platform and shall be held responsible if necessary action is not taken promptly and adequately.”

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His reference is to the immunity social media firms declare by saying they don’t management the content material on their web sites.

The Commission has additionally requested political events and candidates to sensitise their representatives to not take pleasure in ”malpractices, malicious propaganda and cases of hate-speech” on these platforms , and warned that these doing so can be handled “sternly” and “harshly”.

“The commission would like to make it emphatically clear that anyone who misuses any such platform, such as for fomenting communal tensions, etc for electoral purposes, shall have to face consequences under the law of the land,” Arora mentioned.

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Commission and social media firms reminiscent of Facebook and Twitter, together with Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) signed a voluntary code of ethics. According to the code, whereas the individuals ‘”ecognise they are neither the author, nor the publisher of such content”, they are “committed to helping support democratic processes by improving the integrity and transparency of electoral processes”.

Hindustan Times reached out to Facebook and Facebook-controlled Whatsapp for a comment but did not receive any response until press time. Twitter declined comment.

The immunity provided to social media companies allows them to enjoy the upside of the media business (advertising, the main source of revenue for such firms) without having to exercise the responsibility or meet the statutory obligations of a media company.

Recent reports have also shown that most of these companies are selective in their moderation.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Facebook had selectively exercised its hate-speech policy to favour the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The government was quick to react with Information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad writing to the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying that the platform allowed folks to make posts towards prime minister Narendra Modi.

According to folks conversant in the matter who requested to not be named, the Commission attracts its reservoir of energy from Article 324 of the structure. “Elections are conducted under Constitution and the Supreme Court in its judgment has held on a number of occasions that Article 324 gives vast powers to the Commission subject to certain restrictions such as fairness and transparency,” mentioned one among them.

Article 324 permits the Election Commission the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”. The EC invoked this provision in West Bengal in May final 12 months, curbing campaigning within the state forward of Parliamentary elections after clashes between cadres of the BJP and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Kolkata.

Experts, nevertheless, say ECI’s powers to control social media firms are restricted.

“Their authority to regulate platforms is not clearly provided,” mentioned Raman Jit Singh Chima , world cybersecurity lead and Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now . “They are stretching the authority they have to regulate electronic media and threatening companies by proposing to further regulate or prosecute them.”

“It’s commendable that the CEC is speaking about this; however, ECI has failed to advance any reforms to protect electoral democracy in the digital age in India. Prior to the 2019 general elections, many groups working on electoral reforms, democracy and fundamental rights issues wrote to the ECI and went public with their suggestion on how ECI can take steps in this area. They also recommended they engage all stakeholders on this important issue, not just political parties in Delhi , internet companies, and their industry lobby group. This has not yet occurred, which is deeply disturbing,” he added.