EC plans to bring so­cial me­dia gi­ants in the am­bit of paid news

DNA (Delhi) - - FRONT PAGE - Manan Ku­mar manan.ku­mar@dnain­

New Delhi: With over 800 mil­lion vot­ers, the In­dian elec­tion is the big­gest vot­ing event in the world. Unar­guably big­ger than the World Cup or Su­per Bowl events. Small won­ders that so­cial me­dia gi­ants find it an ideal event to in­crease their rev­enue and user base via me­dia con­sump­tion. The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (EC) is now plan­ning to treat so­cial me­dia plat­forms like Twitter, Face­book and What­sApp among other, po­ten­tial car­ri­ers of fake news that can in­flu­ence polls, at par with the tra­di­tional me­dia. A change in the nomen­cla­ture may bring th­ese plat­forms in the am­bit of paid news.

Cur­rently, there is no spe­cific law against “paid news”. To make it ap­pli­ca­ble, the EC re­sorts to in­vok­ing Sec­tion 10A read with Sec­tion 77 of the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Peo­ples Act (RPA) deal­ing with mis­re­port­ing of funds and to treat pub­li­ca­tion of “re­ports” as po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing. Once cleared, ev­ery pro­moted tweet, post and video by po­lit­i­cal par­ties on any of th­ese so­cial me­dia plat­forms would be con­strued as paid news.

Speak­ing to DNA, Chief Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner

(CEC), O P Rawat said, “There are sev­eral al­le­ga­tions in the world against so­cial me­dia plat­forms and they are sub­ject to many probes. We are tak­ing all steps to con­tain this so that

our elec­tions do not get in­flu­enced by it.” When asked if the EC is plan­ning to treat so­cial me­dia at par with gen­eral me­dia, Rawat said, “We are also con­sid­er­ing it. So far we have tried to en­sure that

no harm is caused to our elec­tions through so­cial me­dia.”

Former CECs too are wary of the in­creas­ing in­flu­ence of so­cial me­dia and the in­abil­ity to con­trol it. Former CEC, H S Brahma said, “The elec­tion re­lated news on so­cial me­dia should be treated as paid news. The EC should be more ag­gres­sive. If need be, the EC should ap­proach the top court.”

Former CEC, V S Sam­path said that In­dia should pre­vail over them to lo­cate their servers in In­dia. “When it comes to en­force­ment of elec­tion laws, we have to be ruth­less. To make them fall in line, we should even be ready to shut them off dur­ing the elec­tion pe­riod. We should not think that it will be a ret­ro­grade step,” Sam­path said.

Rawat said that the ex­pert com­mit­tee of EC has spo­ken to all so­cial me­dia plat­forms and taken com­mit­ment from them that any such ma­te­rial that can ad­versely af­fect elec­tions will not be on their plat­forms. “It will re­main in force from the time Model Code of Con­duct comes into ef­fect till the time of dec­la­ra­tion of re­sults,” he said.

The role of so­cial me­dia in in­flu­enc­ing elec­tions by way of cir­cu­lat­ing fake and com­mu­nally sen­si­tive news has gained no­to­ri­ety in the re­cent past. In In­dia, most po­lit­i­cal par­ties have been found guilty of cir­cu­lat­ing fake news through pseudo names. Its im­pact was felt world­wide dur­ing the 2016 US Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

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