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‘Social Media Should be Restricted Before Elections Start in India’

There are over 30 crore monthly active users on Facebook and more than 20 crore on WhatsApp in India

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Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. Pixabay

There are over 30 crore monthly active users on Facebook and more than 20 crore on WhatsApp in India. Even the Narendra Modi app alone can reach 1 crore people in a day.

With such a wide reach, should social media platforms be made to censor political content 48 hours ahead of polling as part of the strategy to maintain the so called “campaign silence”?

“Today, when social media is increasingly one of the most significant factors for impacting the electoral decisions of voters, it is important that the Election Commission take adequate steps to maintain campaign silence,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS.

While the Election Commission of India recognises the impact social media can have on voters ahead of voting, the current legislation does not bar these platforms – many of which now allow live video streaming services — from blocking political ads or propaganda.

These platforms can decide to do so voluntarily, but how effective such a measure would be remains doubtful.

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Election Commission of India recognises the impact social media can have on voters ahead of voting, the current legislation does not bar these platforms. Pixabay

In fact, in response to a petition to restrain any political advertisements, videos or messages before elections, Facebook last month told the Bombay High Court that it would not self-censor any content on its site.

It also raised practical difficulties of implementing such a rule as elections in different parts of India are held on different dates and often spread over a week.

The Election Commission last year formed a committee to review this section so that maintaining campaign silence can be made effective in the changed circumstances where social media yields considerable influence. The committee submitted its recommendation earlier this year.

A query to the poll panel on how it plans to stop social media platforms from broadcasting campaign material ahead of polling went unanswered.

“The Election Commission does not need to be a silent spectator,” Duggal said.

“The Election Commission should invoke the provisions of the specific liability of the service providers in their capacity as intermediaries under the Information Technology Act, 2000,” he said.

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In fact, in response to a petition to restrain any political advertisements, videos or messages before elections, Facebook last month told the Bombay High Court that it would not self-censor any content on its site. Pixabay

A parliamentary panel earlier this month raised grave concerns regarding Facebook’s ability to prevent misuse of its platform during the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and to proactively help the security agencies.

The social media company admitted it doesn’t “always get it right” regarding content moderation on its platform.

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Last month, Colin Crowell, Global Vice President of Public Policy of Twitter, deposed before the BJP MP Anurag Thakur-led panel and discussed how it would address issues such as political bias and manipulation on its platform in real-time.

With threats of foreign interference in Indian elections and spread of fake news on social media looming large, specific, detailed, deterrent legal and penal consequences need to be specifically elaborated in the Act so as to provide criminal, legal and penal liability of the various social media platforms, Duggal informed. (IANS)

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SC Transfers All Pleas Concerning Social Media Guidelines to Itself

Facebook had said that transfer of cases would serve the interests of justice by avoiding the possibility of conflicting decisions

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The apex court was hearing Facebook's plea seeking transfer of various petitions from different high courts to the Supreme Court. Pixabay

Accepting Facebook’s plea, the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed transfer of various petitions, related to guidelines for regulation of the social media in India, from different high courts to the top court.

A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said the matter will be heard in January after the Centre formulates new guidelines on intermediaries.

The apex court was hearing Facebook’s plea seeking transfer of various petitions from different high courts to the Supreme Court.

Facebook had said that transfer of cases would serve the interests of justice by avoiding the possibility of conflicting decisions from the high courts. The social media giant told the apex court that two petitions had been filed in the Madras High Court and one each in the Bombay and Madhya Pradesh High Courts.

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A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said the matter will be heard in January after the Centre formulates new guidelines on intermediaries. Pixabay

All the pleas in the High Courts have sought a direction that Aadhaar or any other government-authorised identity proof should be made mandatory to authenticate social media accounts.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the court that the state of Tamil Nadu had no objection to the matter being transferred to the Supreme Court.

Representing the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the top court that terrorists cannot claim the privileges of privacy.

He said no intermediary can claim to be so safe and secure that it cannot provide details of terrorists and anti-national people and protect them. He also stressed for a balance between national interest, sovereignty of the country and privacy and added that the government is not invading in privacy of citizens.

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The Attorney General told the court that government does not want to crack down on encrypted social media traffic to control crime, but expects help from online platforms to facilitate access.

Representing the petitioner, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi told the court that the intermediaries are caught between pro-privacy parties and the government.

The Centre informed the Supreme Court that the entire process of finalising laws on regulating the social media will be completed by January 2020, and sought three months more for notifying the final revised rules in accordance with the law. (IANS)