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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)

Next Story

Vaccine Doubts Spread Across Social Media Like Disease, Should be Taken Down: Vaccine Chief

"We have to think about it as a disease. This is a disease," Berkley said. "This spreads at the speed of light, literally"

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FILE - A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S. VOA

Doubts about vaccines have spread across social media like a disease and false information that “kills people” should be taken down by the companies running digital platforms, the head of global vaccine alliance Gavi said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a U.S.-sponsored event on the sidelines of the World Health Organization’s annual assembly in Geneva, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley said there was a strong scientific consensus about the safety of vaccines.

But social media algorithms favored sensational content over scientific facts, rapidly convincing people who had never seen family members die from preventable illness.

“We have to think about it as a disease. This is a disease,” Berkley said. “This spreads at the speed of light, literally.”

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“A study says @Autism is out of control — a 78% increase in 10 years. Stop giving monstrous combined vaccinations,” Trump tweeted in 2012. Pixabay

WHO says poor vaccination coverage is causing measles outbreaks globally, with numbers spiking in countries that were previously almost free of the disease, including the United States.

Misinformation about vaccines, which the WHO says save two million lives annually, was not a freedom of speech issue and social media firms need to take it offline, Berkley said. “I remind people that this kills people,” he said.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said complacency, misunderstanding and misinformation were causing vaccination rates to decline globally, with tragic results.

“In my country, social media conspiracy groups confuse well-meaning parents so they hesitate to get the recommended vaccinations,” Azar said.

He rejected any criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump, who repeatedly and erroneously tweeted about links between vaccines and autism in the years before he became president.

“A study says @Autism is out of control — a 78% increase in 10 years. Stop giving monstrous combined vaccinations,” Trump tweeted in 2012.

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Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said health authorities needed to “up our game,” adding that she was working with Twitter, Facebook, Google and other tech companies. Pixabay

Azar said Trump was “extremely firm” in support of vaccination.

“If you had been paying attention in the last month, you would know that the President of the United States, President Trump, was very clear and emphatic: get your shots, get your kids vaccinated, vaccines are safe,” Azar said.

ALSO READ: WHO to Strengthen Strategies to Combat Ebola Epidemic in Congo

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said health authorities needed to “up our game,” adding that she was working with Twitter, Facebook, Google and other tech companies.

“You’ve got to get into the trenches … and begin to get engaged much more on a personal and emotional level, because people don’t understand statistics and data. If you do that. (VOA)