Candidates and political parties using the social media to campaign will not just have to include the costs so incurred in their expenditure records but also need to get prior clearance for political advertisements before using them on such media.
Defining social media as collaborative projects (such as Wikipedia), blogs and micro-blogs (Twitter), content communities (YouTube), social networking sites (Facebook) and the virtual game-world (apps), the EC has, for the first time, decided to monitor online activities of those contesting the next general elections.
To begin with, candidates, for the first time, will have to inform the EC about their “authentic social media accounts” in the affidavit they submit. Then, candidates will be required to ensure that all the political ads they release to any internet-based media or social media website have been pre-certified by the EC-appointed Media Certification and Monitoring Committees at district and state levels before they are used on the social media.
Significantly, candidates and parties will now have to include all expenditure on advertisements on social media in their final statement of expenditure. “This, among other things, shall include payments made to internet companies and websites for carrying ads and also campaign-related operational expenditure on making of creative development of content, operational expenditure on salaries and wages paid to the team of workers employed by such candidates and political parties to maintain their social media accounts, etc,” state the latest EC guidelines.
The Representation of the People Act,1951, mandates that all candidates keep a separate and correct account of all election-related expenditure incurred or authorised by them or their election agents between the date filing nominations and the date of declaration of the result. This statement of expenditure will have to be submitted within 90 days of the culmination of the Lok Sabha polls.
Further, for the the first time, all the provisions of model code of conduct and related instructions will also apply to the content being posted on the internet, including social media websites, by candidates and political parties.
But despite bringing the social media under the ambit of its monitoring, the EC has still not been able to figure out how to monitor the content posted by persons other than the candidates or political parties. The EC, officials said, is currently in consultation with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to find out “practical ways to deal with the issue” where the posting of such content by people other than candidates or parties can be reasonably connected with election campaigning and monitored accordingly.