Bought Likes and fake tweets: Poll-time concern over social media data

Social media being an established campaign platform,EC is asked to explain rules of the game in the virtual world.

Mumbai | Published: October 16, 2013 12:21 am

Shashi Tharoor has over 19 lakh followers on Twitter,and Narendra Modi over 25 lakh. But the sum of the union minister’s followers is nearly 28 crore,while that of Modi’s is less than half that.

While the Prime Minister’s Twitter handle has only about 8.3 lakh followers,Congress leaders in general have a wider reach on Twitter than BJP leaders. On Facebook,however,the BJP is stronger: Modi has 52 lakh Likes,and over the weekend even the RSS announced it was taking social media seriously.

For social media psephologist Vijay Mukhi,these figures are “poll data”. Monitoring politicians and tracking the election campaign on the Internet,Mukhi has found several interesting trends — such as the fact that the diaspora seems to be retweeting Modi’s posts the most enthusiastically,while the Congress’s support is more indigenous.

With social media now an established campaign platform,Mukhi has asked the the Election Commission (EC) to define and explain the rules of the game in the virtual world. Pointing to recent instances of buying Facebook Likes and Twitter followers,he has asked the EC how they were not different from paid news; and how such exercises and expenditure would be monitored.

“How would the EC police the social media as your jurisdiction does not encompass entities out of India… How would the EC stop political parties from carrying out a smear campaign against their opponents on the social web and how would you audit the amount of money they spend on campaigning virtually,” Mukhi asked in an email to the EC.

The commission in its response has assured that “adequate instructions” were in place.

Mukhi announced his intention of predicting the elections by crunching social media data,and asked if an exit poll using social media feeds would come under the ambit of Section 126/126A of the Representation of the People Act ,1951.

The EC replied,“…Any analysis in the form of opinion,exit poll even on Internet and social media during the period of 48 hours referred to in Section 126 (1)(b) would be prohibited in so far as display of the content to the public within India is concerned.”

But Mukhi argues “rules for fair elections in the real world do not necessarily apply for the social media world. It is here that the EC needs to bring parties and social media experts together and frame specific policies”.

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