With political parties using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook in a big way for campaigning in Lok Sabha polls, Election Commission has issued detailed guidelines for political advertisements on such platforms that include obtaining certification for contents before putting them in public domain.
The Election Commission has also asked the social networking sites to maintain expenditure incurred by the political parties and individual candidates on advertisements so that they can be produced to the Commission when requested for.
In separate letters to major social networking sites on Tuesday, the Commission directed them to ensure that contents displayed by them during the electoral process was not “unlawful or malicious or violative of the model code of conduct”.
It said the guidelines to the social media have been issued as part of the Commission’s broad efforts to address the problem of paid news.
All major political parties have been using the social networking sites as part of their campaign strategy, particularly to woo the young voters. In the recent Delhi Assembly polls, the Aam Aadmi Party had used Facebook and Twitter in a big way to draw support for itself.
Director in Election Commission Dhirender Ojha said the directive of the Commission will be applicable to a range of internet-based social media which include Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia.
“We have told the social networking sites to take pre-certification from Media Certification and Monitoring Committees at district and State levels,” he said while addressing a workshop on media’s role in the electoral process.
He said it was part of Commission’s efforts to address the problem of paid news.
The commission has already issued directions for providing details of social media accounts by the candidates while filing their nominations.
Ojha said it was mandatory for political parties and individual candidates to keep details of expenditure incurred on advertisement in social media. He said the expenses will be accounted for in the total expenditure incurred by the candidates.
He said the guidelines for the social networking sites for political advertisements have been finalised after a series of meetings with them by the Election Commission.
Speaking at the workshop, Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer Vijay Dev said the EC would try its best to prevent candidates and political parties from “misusing” the social media but at the same time maintained that it was not attempting to “throttle” the social media.
Ojha said provisions of model code of conduct and related instructions of the Commission will be applicable for content being posted on the internet, including social media websites, by candidates and political parties.
He admitted that monitoring contents in the social media was an uphill task but asserted that every effort will be made to maintain decorum in the campaign and ensure a level playing field for all the candidates.
He said as servers of major social networking sites were in foreign countries, it was difficult to even track the origin of the contents.
In the letter to social networking sites, the Commission said internet-based media will have to carry out “active scrutiny” of the political advertisement before putting them for public view.
“In case any unlawful content coming to the notice of the election machinery and brought to the attention of the internet-based media, the same would be removed forthwith,” it said.
In an earlier directive, the Commission had said legal provisions relating to election campaigning apply to social media in the same manner in which they apply to any other form of election campaigning using any other media.
Dev said expenses on social media by candidates political and parties will be monitored by the Commission and appropriate action would be taken against violators as per law.
He said the Commission had received two complaints regarding use of social media in assembly polls in December last year.
Identifying paid news as a major challenge, he appealed to the media to exercise “self imposed restrictions and discipline” to address the problem.
Ojha termed paid news as a complex menace that “circumvents” election expenditure laws and vitiates the electoral process.
Dev said 54 cases of paid news were reported during the Delhi Assembly polls last year.