September 10, 2019
Please note – views expressed are my own and not influenced, in any manner, by any political party/organisation.
The Election Commission recently announced the dates for Lok Sabha elections. To be held from 11th of April, the counting is all set to happen on the 23rd of May. One part of me is thrilled to see the inclusion of Social Media under the MCC (The Model Code Of Conduct).
For those not in-the-know, MCC is a set of guidelines released by the Election Commission to ensure the polls are free and fair. The inclusion of Social Media under the MCC and the Political Ad Rules means having a stringent check on the activities of the political parties and their campaigns on these platforms.
It, however, fails to include a lot of obvious touch points which would likely be abused by the political parties. But, to give credit where credit is due, they are at least talking about the basics. It’s good that the needle has started to move, but we’re just scratching the surface right now. What lies beneath can be dangerous to an unprecedented level.
What’s included in the code?
- Candidates will have to share details of their social media accounts with the commission.
- All the expenses done against social media advertisements will have to be reported.
- All political ads on these platforms will need pre-certification.
- The media monitoring and certification committee which is responsible for certifying advertisements, before they go live, will also look at the social media campaigns.
- Social Media platforms have given written consent to establish priority channels for EC and agreed to appoint grievance officers for the upcoming election.
Problems yet to be addressed…
While the organised way of advertising has been taken care of (to some extent), what about political content being circulated at scale on apps like WhatsApp & TikTok? Is there any regulation on influencer marketing or issue-based advertising? Both of which can impact decisions in a snap?
- Unless you don’t use WhatsApp (which is highly unlikely), or you are part of the ever-present exception-to-the-rule subset, I’ll be hard-pressed to believe that you’re not getting messages skewed towards a particular political party or a candidate with questionable credibility & sources.
Who is regulating these?
- A big one is issue-based advertising. Both, Facebook and Twitter have policies (FB, Twitter) for them in the U.S. but nothing in India, so far. Issue-based ads can be run by any organisation. They are, generally, in favour or against matters which have the potential to change the game entirely and swing the voters towards a particular party.
With so many potential and prevalent topics in India, this one, in my opinion, is most dangerous to be omitted. Think about a situation where campaigns are being run for-or-against Ram temple. They are just too risky not to be included in the code of conduct.
- Another one is a problem we’ve glimpsed through the Cobrapost Sting Operations. If you’re aren’t aware, read about it here. In my previous article, I briefly touched upon this topic. Now, it holds even more consequence. With MCC getting into effect, there would be regulations for the candidates to promote themselves or the party. But what about everyday people or social media influencers endorsing the candidates or the party?
With no regulations in place, it has the probability of being slipped under the ‘user-generated content’ radar. Yet, it still is a full-fledged tool which can and will sway the results at-scale across the country.
I leave you with one question:
Do you think we are ready to make certain that the elections are free and fair when these new-age threats are lurking around the corner?
Share your viewpoint in the comments below.