Can take down election content after campaign ends, Facebook tells Election Commission

Social media giant Facebook has offered to remove content flagged by the Election Commission in the last 48 hours before voting when no political campaigning is allowed, it is learnt.

Written by Ritika Chopra , Karishma Mehrotra | New Delhi | Updated: June 27, 2018 10:37:27 am
Can take down election content after campaign ends, Facebook tells EC Facebook made the proposal in a meeting early this month with an EC committee set up to review legal provisions that deal with election silence. (Image: Bloomberg)

Social media giant Facebook has offered to remove content flagged by the Election Commission in the last 48 hours before voting when no political campaigning is allowed, it is learnt. Facebook made the proposal in a meeting early this month with an EC committee set up to review legal provisions that deal with election silence.

The 14-member committee, chaired by Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha was constituted on January 8 to suggest changes to Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, which prohibits election campaigning two days before voting. The panel was also tasked to study the impact of social and new media during this “silence period” and recommend modifications to the model code of conduct (MCC) accordingly.

According to sources, the panel has now also reached out to YouTube to hear what role the latter can play in preventing violations of Section 126 of the RP Act. No meeting has taken place with representatives of YouTube yet.

Facebook’s proposal is significant as it could turn out to be the first collaborative effort between a social media platform and the EC to enforce electoral law. The Commission has been struggling to enforce election silence since new media and social media are not covered under Section 126.

The committee, The Indian Express has learnt, met with a Facebook representative in the first week of June. In the meeting, Facebook offered to take down content posted in the 48 hours before voting in Indian elections, which violates Section 126 of the RP Act. Once the content is removed, users will be informed why this was done, Facebook has also suggested.

The social media giant also proposed to introduce a pop up to alert users against posting any election-related matter during the election silence period.

The committee, on its part, has urged Facebook to increase the number of content reviewers during the elections in the country and also asked what the social media platform proposes to do in case there are repeated violations of Section 126 by a user.

Facebook was also asked by the committee to consider not accepting election advertisements during the 48 hours before polling. The above deliberations are likely to be part of the committee’s report, which is expected by the end of this month.

“Last meeting of the committee was held on June 4, 2018, where Mr Snehashish Ghosh represented Facebook. There are no further updates (from Facebook) as yet,” said EC spokesperson Shefali Sharan. Ghosh is associate manager, public policy, at Facebook.

“We have routine meetings with the Election Commission of India and this meeting did happen and globally we have made some announcements… As of now we are not in a position to share what will be the specific guidelines for the elections on transparency of ads or pop-ups on screen on political ads for the upcoming Indian elections,” said a Facebook spokesperson via email.

The 14-member committee has nine officers from the Commission and one nominated member each from the I&B Ministry, Law Ministry, IT Ministry, National Broadcasters Association and Press Council of India.

The EC set up the committee after withdrawing a notice issued to Congress president Rahul Gandhi for giving interviews to TV channels on December 13 last year, a day before the second phase of the Gujarat polls.

The decision to issue Rahul a notice had evoked a strong reaction from the Congress, which questioned the move on the ground that it did not initiate action against news channels for airing BJP president Amit Shah’s interview and Union Minister Piyush Goyal’s press conference the same day as Rahul’s interview.

The EC eventually withdrew its notice and announced, “The Commission is of the considered view that due to multifold expansion of digital and electronic media, the extant Model Code of Conduct, Section 126 of the RP Act, 1951, and other related provisions require revisiting to cater to the requirement and challenges of the present and emerging situations.”

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