Should EC Enforce Guidelines for the Use of Social Media by Political Parties and Candidates

Political Parties Social Media

It can be noticed that there is a sudden phenomenon of political marketing taking the social media route. The reason is quite obvious with the rapid increase of internet penetration in the country political parties are betting high on projecting views and activities in the social media space. Also with the 2014 elections coming around the corner, social media has become the breeding ground for high visibility promotional ground for many national politicians.

With the increase usage of social media by politicians and their parties some of the conversations have led controversies and heated discussion for the media world. Considering this, Election Commission of India is busy taking measures by issuing certain steps that politicians and political parties needs to take care while campaigning on social media during this election season.

In a recent announcement made by Election Commission of India, with respect to use of social media, the election campaigning candidates are required to file affidavits through ‘Form 26’ at the time of filing of their nomination. With respect to this candidates need to provide his or her telephone number, email ID and social media account, if any, to the commission.

Election Commission of India also further made it clear that no political advertisement can be released to any online media without pre-certification from competent authorities. Along with this, the candidates and political parties would include all expenditure on campaigning, including expenditure on advertisements on social media.

The statement issued also mentioned that provisions of model code of conduct and related instructions of the Commission would also apply to the content being posted on the Internet by candidates and political parties. As far as the content posted by persons other than candidate and other political parties was concerned the commission was considering the matter in consultation with the ministry of communications and information technology on practical ways to deal with the issue.

After giving out these instructions, the Election Commission of India summoned social media companies to a meeting last week and directed them to cooperate in monitoring content. According to a Times of India report, during the meeting social media companies were asked to set up a mechanism that would help prevent the posting of material that has the potential of vitiating the election atmosphere. The report also stated if such content is posted, the mechanism should also allow for its speedy removal.

There many points that needs to be considered by the Election Commission of India with respect to these guidelines. Having said this, the Election Commission of India has made few notable positive moves towards keep a close watch over these political campaigns. Here is a detailed analysis of both the positives and negatives of these guidelines…

Authenticity of candidates’ social account is wise decision

The most important thought that the Election Commission of India has issued is of verification of social media accounts of the candidates. It can be noted that these social media platforms don’t have verifications of accounts at least in India. This move is a wise decision by the commission. It also helps in helps validating content made online by the respective politicians or their parties. Voters thereby can get access to the right campaign page of their preferred parties and follow them accordingly.

As mentioned above things will be cleared once the commission also mentions how it will regulate social media content published by other with the help of ministry of communications and information technology.

Tracking down other content creators is near to impossible…

According the guidelines it will regulate only the social media accounts of politicians and their parties. It no where mentions how it will regulate social media content published by others. The commission has only mentioned that with the help of ministry of communications and information technology practical ways to deal with this issue will be taken into consideration.

What if the commission fails to address this? It will certainly become very difficult to gauge who is a volunteer/ just another ordinary supporter or who is a paid supporter. The social media space is such that it is possible to create multiple IPs, change Twitter handles, create new user ids on public discussion forums and many other inappropriate activities cannot be tracked down. The only way to monitor is by developing sophisticated tools to detect these manipulative activities. But is the Election Commission of India well equipped to develop these tools? Only time can tell us that.

What about Internet trolls?

It can be observed that trolls form a large part of the online political discourse in India. It is the social media that then helps these trolls to go viral. The guidelines haven’t touched about this aspect of content. The proper way to deal with a troll first demands knowing how trolls work. Usually a troll happens from upset set of people over a particular issue.

These troll creators want other people on the social community to take the bait to their scandalous comments. Arguing with a troll is like adding fuel to fire especially the nature of content is political.

All trolls cannot be monitored but if a particular one triggers attention at a massive scale that could be create a negative effect then what is the election commission going to do?

Indian democracy is the most diverse model of governance in the world. Considering this, it will be extremely difficult to take a control on the all the political social media activities that is generated on a regular basis. It is extremely important to keep a close watch on the activities of the political officials in this space and the Election Commission of India is taking the right steps towards it but the question is how much manipulation can be controlled? Never can the commission monitor the voice of masses, in that case only time will give an idea on the effectiveness of these guidelines.

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