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Despite All The Efforts, Political Campaign Spends on Social Media Remain A Mystery

But even as the Election Commission has made social media companies follow certain norms, such as pre-certification of political ads to prevent misuse of the platforms, such measures are unlikely to bring adequate transparency to the whole process

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The Election Commission is in talks with the representatives of Internet companies, including social media platforms, on the use of social media for campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls while the Model Code of Conduct is in force. Pixabay

Despite all the efforts put in place by social media companies to show who is paying for the political advertisements on their platforms, the users may not know the actual amount spent to run political campaigns on these websites.

Facebook has a searchable database for political ads which anyone can access. This Ad Library report from the social media giant shows that Indians have spent over Rs 6.5 crore in over 30,000 ads related to politics since February 2019 — in the run up to the general elections.

Similarly, Twitter also has an Ad Transparency Centre which allows one to search which account has spent how much in the past seven days.

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“In terms of political ads, social media companies should allow only certified agencies to post ads. This would make the monitoring process much easier for everyone. Allowing any individual to post political ads complicates the monitoring process. This is a big loophole,” he said. Pixabay

While these efforts are being regarded as important steps towards bringing transparency in the political process, they may not reflect the complete picture of how the social media space operates, according to experts.

“Influencers play a very important role in political campaigns and 90 per cent of the transactions related to these campaigns are done through cash,” social media expert Anoop Mishra told IANS.

Knowing which party is spending how much on social media is important because much of what trends on Twitter or what becomes popular on Facebook – with potential to impact voter behaviour – may actually be due to the money and manpower of political parties while creating an illusion of organic support from hundreds and thousands of users in these platforms.

“Every political party including the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), Congress, Samajwadi Party and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) are trying to push their agenda on social media. But those parties with greater money, manpower and tech expertise are likely to win the social media war,” Mishra said.

He added that political parties were employing a large number of people to make their propaganda material viral on social media.

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Similarly, Twitter also has an Ad Transparency Centre which allows one to search which account has spent how much in the past seven days.
Pixabay

“In terms of political ads, social media companies should allow only certified agencies to post ads. This would make the monitoring process much easier for everyone. Allowing any individual to post political ads complicates the monitoring process. This is a big loophole,” he said.

“Encrypted platforms like WhatsApp could be used extensively to spread advertisements and propaganda, which could be difficult to be tracked,” added Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in), a Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services body.

Also Read: Report Claims, As Many As 1 Billion Indians Live in Areas of Water Scarcity
The Election Commission is in talks with the representatives of Internet companies, including social media platforms, on the use of social media for campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls while the Model Code of Conduct is in force.

But even as the Election Commission has made social media companies follow certain norms, such as pre-certification of political ads to prevent misuse of the platforms, such measures are unlikely to bring adequate transparency to the whole process. (IANS)

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Here’s Why Sri Lanka Does not Trust Social Media Platforms

Sri Lanka temporarily shut down Facebook earlier in 2018 after hate speech spread on the company’s apps resulted in mob violence

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Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. VOA

Battling the spread of hate speech on social media platforms especially Facebook for long, the Sri Lanka government on Sunday once again “temporarily blocked” social media from spreading fake news in the wake of deadly suicide bombings in the island that killed 290 people.

In a brief statement, the Sri Lankan President’s Secretary Udaya Seneviratne said the government has “decided to temporarily block social media sites including Facebook and Instagram in an effort to curb false news reports”.

Several users in the country reported they could not access Facebook and its photo-sharing service Instagram, Google-owned YouTube and WhatsApp for most part of the day.

Facebook spokesperson Ruchika Budhraja told TechCrunch that “teams from across Facebook have been working to support first responders and law enforcement as well as to identify and remove content which violates its standards”.

Google did not immediately comment.

“It’s a rare but not unprecedented step for a government to block access to widely used sites and services,” said the report.

Sri Lanka has been criticizing Facebook and its platforms for long when it comes to the spread of hate speech.

The island country in March ordered Internet and mobile service providers to temporarily block Facebook and its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Instagram as part of a crackdown on online hate speeches.

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Multiple apps are displayed on an iPhone in New York. VOA

“These platforms are banned because they were spreading hate speeches and amplifying them,” government spokesperson Harindra B. Dassanayake was quoted as saying in The New York Times.

The claims are supported by non-profit Freedom House which found “hate speech against minorities continues to foment on various social media platforms, particularly Facebook”.

Last May, a coalition of activists from eight countries, including India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, called on Facebook to put in place a transparent and consistent approach to moderation.

Activists argued that the lack of local moderators a” specifically moderators fluent in the Sinhalese language spoken by the country’s Buddhist majority — had allowed hate speech run wild on the platform.

Also Read- Decide on TikTok by Wednesday, or Ban Ends: SC

The coalition demanded civil rights and political bias audits into Facebook’s role in abetting human rights abuses, spreading misinformation and manipulation of democratic processes in their respective countries.

Sri Lanka temporarily shut down Facebook earlier in 2018 after hate speech spread on the company’s apps resulted in mob violence. (IANS)