Election Commission to meet with India heads of social media firms to discuss action over content violative of poll code

EC will discuss with the companies the issue of takedown of content violative of MCC during the Lok Sabha elections, pre-certification process for political ads among other issues.

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Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora with other election commissioners (PTI Photo)

The Election Commission (EC) will hold a meeting with the India heads of social media platforms - Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, ShareChat and Tiktok - to discuss systems the companies have put in place for the upcoming the Lok Sabha elections.

The poll panel will discuss with the companies the issue of takedown of content violative of model code of conduct (MCC) during the Lok Sabha elections, pre-certification process for political advertisements and the time limit for them to act on complaints, an Indian Express report said.

The meeting comes amid the confusion over the poll body's first notice to Facebook seeking removal of content which violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). 

The Election Commission earlier this week Facebook to remove posters carrying Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s photos, shared by BJP leader and Delhi MLA OP Sharma on the social media platform.

Facebook, however, informally notified the poll commission that it must cite a specific legal provision that the posts violated. While Sharma deleted the two posts on his own, claiming that the election watchdog was biased against nationalist leaders, the issue created confusion over EC's notification format. 

This is one one of the main agenda points for Tuesday’s meeting between the EC and country heads of the social media platforms. 

“Evolving a notification mechanism by the social media platforms so that ECI may notify the relevant platform of political violations of Section 126 of the RP Act, 1951,” the agenda note said, according to the Indian Express.

The meeting will also discuss pre-certification of political advertisements hosted on social media sites, by the EC’s Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC).

Meanwhile, the Election Commission told the Bombay High Court on Friday that it is willing to prohibit any political advertisements on social media 48 hours before polling day, provided the high court issues such orders.

The Representation of the People's Act already prohibits political campaigning 48 hours before polling day and a notification of the EC regulating ads on TV and print media prohibits publication of political ads 48 hours before polling day.

On the previous hearing, Facebook had told the court that it had introduced strict "pre-verification processes" for all political ads and paid content of "national interest" on their websites in India ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Last week, as Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced the schedule of the Lok Sabha elections, he said that social media platforms will deploy "appropriate fact checkers" to scan fake news and use of abusive language ahead of Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission said Sunday.

He said each of the social media platforms has created a mechanism to accept only pre-certified political advertisements during the election process and will share the expenditure incurred in this regard with election authorities.

All platforms have agreed to establish priority channels for EC for a quick response. They have also appointed grievance officers for the election, scheduled from April 11 to May 19.

"(The) platforms are already taking action against fake accounts, spam by deploying fact checkers," he said.

Responding to a question on action EC can take against the platforms, he said social media and print media are not covered under the election law.

The election results will be declared on May 23.

(With PTI inputs)

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