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Can Social Media Control “Objectionable Content” And “Political Bias” From Its Platforms?

Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp intensified its fight against misinformation soon after dozens of lynching incidents in the country last year were linked to rumours spread on its platform.

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Facebook's political ad tracking has gone live for India, showing ad spends from the parties and their affiliates. Pixabay

Major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are aware of the damage fake news can cause to the election process in India. But none has one simple solution to eliminate the impact that misinformation can have on millions of voters.

After facing flak from the government, social media giants are in a huddle and have devised some tools and launched a few initiatives to fight fake news and political bias, in collaboration with the Election Commission of India.

China-based popular video social networking app TikTok has also reached out to the Election Commission to comply with its instructions and establish an escalation channel, abiding by the model code of conduct.

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According to Twitter’s Global Vice President of Public Policy, Colin Crowell, Twitter has now put in place a dedicated team for maintaining site integrity and focused on cleaning manipulation networks that might affect the voting process in India. Pixabay

“We have also informed Election Commission that we will not serve any paid political advertisements on our platforms in India throughout this election period,” ByteDance, which operates social media apps such as TikTok and Helo, said in a statement shared with IANS.

Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp intensified its fight against misinformation soon after dozens of lynching incidents in the country last year were linked to rumours spread on its platform.

From launching awareness programmes on dangers of fake news on TV, radio and digital platforms to limiting the number of forwards to five, the messaging platform has introduced several measures.

“We’re pleased that the recent changes we’ve made to limit viral content and educate users is having an impact. This work is never done — there is more that we can and will do,” WhatsApp India head Abhijit Bose said in a statement this week.

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This not even social media players are sure of as, in their own words, there is much more to be done on this front. Pixabay

WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook is also banking on a multi-pronged strategy to fight fake news ahead of the elections. From verifying political ads to expanding the third-party fact checkers programme in India and making information labelled as fake less visible on News Feed, the social media giant has taken several measures to reduce the impact of misinformation.

Richard Allan, Facebook’s Vice President for Global Policy Solutions, said recently that the company was establishing a task force comprising “hundreds of people” in the country to prevent bad actors from abusing its platform.

Facebook’s political ad tracking has gone live for India, showing ad spends from the parties and their affiliates.

Micro-blogging site Twitter, which earlier faced accusations of being “slow” in removing “objectionable content” and “political bias” from its platform, has started showing billing details of political ads as its Ads Transparency Center for the country went live this week.

According to Twitter’s Global Vice President of Public Policy, Colin Crowell, Twitter has now put in place a dedicated team for maintaining site integrity and focused on cleaning manipulation networks that might affect the voting process in India.

Also Read: Facebook Partners with Top Music Labels in India

Would these efforts deter the unofficial troll army of political parties from posting misinformation?

This not even social media players are sure of as, in their own words, there is much more to be done on this front. (IANS)

Next Story

Authorities Scroll Through Social Media Violations Of Laws Restricting Political Parties, As It Forms Thailand’s Election “War Room”

"Combating false news is crucial to the integrity and safety of the Thailand elections," said Katie Harbath, Facebook's Global Politics and Government director, during a Bangkok visit in January.

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Government staff work as they monitor social media in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019. VOA

In Thailand’s election “war room,” authorities scroll through thousands of social media posts, looking for violations of laws restricting political parties’ campaigning on social media that activists say are among the most prohibitive in the world.

The monitors are on the look-out for posts that “spread lies, slander candidates, or use rude language,” all violations of the new electoral law, said Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission, who gave a Reuters team an exclusive tour of the facility.

When they find an offending post, on, for example, Facebook, they print it out, date-stamp it, and file it in a clear plastic folder, to be handed over to the Election Commission and submitted to Facebook for removal.

“When we order content to be removed, we’ll reach out to the platforms, and they are happy to cooperate with us and make these orders efficient,” Sawang said.

Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of Election Commission talks as he works in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019.
Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of Election Commission talks as he works in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019.

Sawang said the tough electoral laws governing social media for the March 24 election, the first since a 2014 military coup, are a necessary innovation aimed at preventing manipulation that has plagued other countries’ elections in recent years.

“Other countries don’t do this. Thailand is ahead of the curve with regulating social media to ensure orderly campaigning and to protect candidates,” he said.

A Facebook representative said it reviewed requests from governments on a case-by-case basis.

“We have a government request process, which is no different in Thailand than the rest of the world,” the representative said.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Democracy advocates, worry the social media restrictions laid out by the military government may be impeding parties from freely campaigning.

The rules require that candidates and parties register social media handles and submit a post to the commission, stating what platform it will appear on and for how long.

Parties and candidates are only allowed to discuss policies, and posts that are judged to be misleading voters or that portray others negatively could see the party disqualified, or a candidate jailed for up to 10 years and banned from politics for 20.

Government staff work as they monitor social media in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019.
Government staff work as they monitor social media in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019. VOA

Pongsak Chan-on, coordinator of the Bangkok-based Asia Network for Free and Fair Election (ANFREL), said the rules go far beyond combating “fake news” and raise questions about how free and fair the election will be.

“The rules are stricter than in any recent elections anywhere. They’re so detailed and strict that parties are obstructed,” he told Reuters.

‘Doesn’t Bode Well for Democracy’

The monitoring center, with a signboard reading “E-War Room,” has three rows of computers and stacks of printouts, with half a dozen workers spending eight hours a day searching for violations of the law.

Sawang said another intelligence center scanned for violations 24 hours a day but it was “off-limits” to media.

The election is broadly seen as a race between the military-backed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, and parties that want the military out of politics.

But the stringent rules have left anti-junta parties fretting about how to campaign online, nervous that they could inadvertently break a rule that triggers disqualification.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha arrives to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of "National Fund to Reduce Inequalities" ahead of the general election, in Bangkok, Thailand, March 18, 2019.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha arrives to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of “National Fund to Reduce Inequalities” ahead of the general election, in Bangkok, Thailand, March 18, 2019. VOA

Up to now, the new rules have not been used to disqualify any candidates though the very threat has had a dampening effect and encouraged self-censorship.

“They create complications for parties,” said Pannika Wanich, spokeswoman for the new Future Forward Party, which has attracted support among young urban folk who have come of age on social media.

She said her party had to consult a legal team before making posts.

Some candidates have deactivated their Facebook pages while others have removed posts that might cause trouble.

Last month, Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit faced disqualification over an allegation that he misled voters in his biography on the party’s website. The commission dismissed the case last week.

A woman casts her early vote for the upcoming Thai election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 17, 2019.
A woman casts her early vote for the upcoming Thai election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 17, 2019. VOA

In another petition, the commission was asked to ban the party’s secretary-general for slandering the junta in a Facebook post.

“It’s very restrictive and doesn’t bode well for democracy,” said Tom Villarin, a Philippine congressman and member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “Putting more restrictions on social media during a campaign season defeats the purpose of holding elections in the first place.”

Fighting Fake News

About 74 percent of Thailand’s population of 69 million are active social media users, putting Thais among the world’s top 10 users, according to a 2018 survey by Hootsuite and We Are Social.

Thailand is Facebook’s eighth biggest market with 51 million users, the survey showed.

Facebook said it has teams with Thai-language speakers to monitor posts and restricts electoral advertisements from outside the country.

Also Read: Renowned Job Seeking Platform LinkedIn Announces Word “Disruption” As Most Over Used Buzzword

“Combating false news is crucial to the integrity and safety of the Thailand elections,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s Global Politics and Government director, during a Bangkok visit in January.

Sawang said the election commission has also gained cooperation from Twitter and Japanese messaging app Line, used by 45 million Thais.

Line Thailand told Reuters it did not monitor chats for the election commission but helped limit fake news by showing only articles from “trusted publishers” on its news feature. (VOA)