In what is probably the first instance of action against a violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) on social media, the Election Commission (EC) Tuesday asked Facebook to remove two political posters with Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s photograph, shared by BJP leader and Delhi MLA Om Prakash Sharma.
The EC is learnt to have flagged the content to Shivnath Thukral, Director, Public Policy for India and South Asia, at Facebook, based on a complaint received on its cVIGIL app. It is a new Android-based mobile application, introduced during the Karnataka Assembly election last year, on which citizens can with proof to the EC.
When asked to comment on the Commission’s request, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We are committed to working with the Election Commission to prevent abuse on the platform.”
The move comes days after the poll panel asked all recognised political parties to stop making references to the armed forces in their political campaigns. The MCC has been in force since Sunday when the EC announced the LS poll dates.
The two posters in question were shared on Facebook by the Delhi MLA on March 1. Both carry photographs of Wing Commander Varthaman, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and Sharma, who is the Vishwas Nagar MLA in Delhi.
One of the posters states, “Modi ji dwara itne kam samay main bahadur Abhinandan ko wapas lana Bharat ki bahut badi kootnitik vijay hai (Abhinandan’s return, through Modi ji, is a big diplomatic win for India).”
The other states, “Jhuk gaya hai Pakistan, laut aaya hai desh ka veer Jawan (Pakistan capitulates, the country’s braveheart is back)”.
In its communication to presidents, chairpersons and general secretaries of all recognised parties on March 9, the Commission had drawn attention to a circular dated December 4, 2013, asking them not to use the armed forces for political gains.
“It is pertinent to mention here that the Armed Forces of a nation are the guardian of its frontiers, security and the political system. They are apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy. It is, therefore, necessary that the political parties and leaders exercise great caution while making any reference to the Armed Forces in their political campaign,” stated the EC directive.
Though MCC provisions have been applicable to social media since 2013, the Commission was not able to act against violations on such platforms as there was no mechanism in place for the EC to reach out to social media sites.
This is the first Lok Sabha election where social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Google, WhatsApp and ShareChat have agreed to co-operate with the EC to “uphold the integrity and legality of the political campaigns conducted” on their platforms, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had said.