Tuesday June 18, 2019
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Indian IT Act Silent On Social Media’s Manipulative Role

With a wide array of social media analytics tool available online it is not even difficult to spot the right influencers for their advertising programmes.

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While celebrities with huge following running into millions on social media are known as macro influencers, even some people with small number of followers can earn big sum of money as influencers. They are known as micro influencers. Pixabay

If the Cobrapost investigation which revealed that several Bollywood celebrities were willing to pass views of political parties as personal opinion for money shook your conscience, but there is not much that you could do to restrict them from doing so because the relevant Indian law is silent on this matter.

The investigation revealed that more than 30 Indian film and TV industry actors/artistes agreed to spread the propaganda of political parties through their social media accounts for money.

“Taking money for tweeting on behalf of political parties is definitely unethical, but it is not illegal. The Information Technology Act, 2000 is completely silent on this,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS.

What the investigation unearthed was just the tip of the iceberg. The rise in popularity of social media platforms actually opened up a relatively new advertising economy driven by “influencer marketing”.

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Just as social media companies have come up with transparency rules for political ads, they should have similar features for influencers so that people can distinguish between commercial space and personal space. Pixabay

Marketing firm Mediakix estimated that influencer marketing on Instagram alone could reach $2 billion by the end of this year from $1 billion in 2017.

While Instagram has over a billion monthly active users globally, its parent company Facebook has over 2.3 billion monthly active users and over 16 million people log in to Twitter every day. WhatsApp is another powerful platform which has over 200 million users in India.

The kind of reach that these social media platforms have can offer some idea about how big the influencer marketing business could be. Important here to mention is that it is not just celebrities who are the stars in this game.

While celebrities with huge following running into millions on social media are known as macro influencers, even some people with small number of followers can earn big sum of money as influencers. They are known as micro influencers.

With a wide array of social media analytics tool available online it is not even difficult to spot the right influencers for their advertising programmes.

“In the starting, celebrities were used as influencers for brand endorsement and marketing purposes, however, after social media, now everyone is a celebrity and everything is business including politics,” social media expert Anoop Mishra said.

In countries like the US, it is mandatory to put proper disclosure on paid posts. But only a few follow the rules.

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With the elections coming, political parties are not complaining much. A top WhatsApp executive recently even warned political parties against abusing its platform.
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In India, due to lack of user awareness, it is even more difficult distinguish between a paid post and personal opinion.

With the elections coming, political parties are not complaining much. A top WhatsApp executive recently even warned political parties against abusing its platform.

“More than 10,000 official WhatsApp groups have been created by a leading political party to slam its rivals on social media,” Mishra said.

“Political discourse is going to be impacted by social media influencers. There is no two opinion about it,” Duggal said, adding that the consequences of this can be very serious as social media platforms are being used to create a highly-polarised atmosphere in the country.

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Just as social media companies have come up with transparency rules for political ads, they should have similar features for influencers so that people can distinguish between commercial space and personal space.

“Manipulation of social media platform for personal gain must be brought under the ambit of law without putting barriers on free speech,” Duggal added. (IANS)

Next Story

The Much Needed ‘Digital Revolution’ on the Right Track

However, according to R.K. Rana, former Director General, Assam Rifles, social media has limited use for the Armed Forces

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"It's time for social media companies to get serious about their responsibility to young people," Hinds was quoted as saying by The Sun. Pixabay

For the Generation Z, it has already become a way of life – tweeting about the problems while getting a passport or writing a Facebook post about the sanitary conditions on trains and expecting a response from the concerned authorities. This was unimagianble just a few years ago.

In fact, keeping in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of creating a digitally empowered nation, a large number of leaders, organisations, Ministries and the Armed Forces are marking their presence felt online – that too with witty quips at times.

With rapid smartphone penetration and half a billion people in the country now using Internet, millennials now feel that the much needed “digital revolution” is on the right track.

Sampada Saraf, a 24-year old Deputy Collector from Madhya Pradesh believes that digitalisation has not only made proceedings more transparent for the citizens, but has also helped authorities keep a tab on the progress of their work.

“From registration of complaints to getting a caste certificate, ration card or land disputes, has been or is in the process of being shifted ‘online’,” Saraf told IANS.

“Our official Facebook pages and Twitter accounts keep us well connected to the people we serve.”

The previous government launched the “Digital India” campaign in 2015 to ensure all of the government’s services are made electronically available.

Four years later, today, the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Textiles, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Office of the Prime Minister of India (PMO India), Ministry of Defence, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other major organisations are heavily followed on social networking platforms.

How active, witty and prompt the Indian government organisations are on social media was highlighted recently when the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) responded to a user of its official ticket booking application who complained of obscene advertisements on the app.

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When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods, the study added. Pixabay

The response of IRCTC, asking the user to clear his browsing history, kept trending on all social networking websites for a couple of days.

While talking to IANS, Alok Dave, retired General Manager, Modern Coach Factory, Raebareli said, “I think there is a paradigm shift in any communication with people due to technology changes and therefore everybody, whether government or private must use these methods for basic survival.”

Since digitalisation has bridged the gap between citizens and the government, a lot of information and data now reach the authorities first hand.

“Social media has eliminated the need of a middleman. People personally reach out to us with their grievances which not only keeps information clear but also helps us help them immediately,” said Sunil Dubey, Deputy Secretary, Department of Revenue, Madhya Pradesh.

Leading from the front, Modi has 47.8 million followers on Twitter where he conveys important policy decisions and 22.9 million followers on Instagram where he posts about cricket, travel destinations and pictures of him meditating in ice capped mountains, while keeping his country informed about the work he looks into.

There are also no two opinions about the fact that people now care about the digital presence of the government handles.

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Twitterati on Friday, for example, reacted sharply after the Twitter handle of the Indian Army’s Chinar Corps was suspended for unknown reason. The account was restored later.

However, according to R.K. Rana, former Director General, Assam Rifles, social media has limited use for the Armed Forces.

“The Army must make use of social media for specific purposes like instilling faith in the hearts and minds of people in terrorism infected and remote areas and in aiding civil authorities during floods, earthquakes etc.,” Rana said. (IANS)