Will Election Commission Succeed in Weeding Out Hate and Fake News from Social Media?

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Election Commission of India (ECI).

With no proper policies and law in place, the mechanism put up by the EC can’t make an impact on curbing fake news and hate speech, feel the respondents.

Waquar Hasan | Caravan Daily   

NEW DELHI  Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora on Sunday, while announcing the polling dates for the Lok Sabha elections, said that dedicated grievance officers are being appointed for social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube to “take necessary and prompt actions against the contents published on their platforms”.   

These social media giants have also committed “in writing” to ensure that they would not publish any political advertisement on their platforms without the approval from Election Commission’s Media Certification and Monitoring Committee. Keeping the digital penetration into account EC has also made it compulsory for the candidates to include election expenditure for online and social media publicity in the expenditure disclosures made by them.  

The model code of conduct (MCC) will also be applicable to social media content being posted by political parties, informed the chief election commissioner. The commission has set up an app where citizens can inform them about those violating the model code of conduct.  

As a third of the 900 million voters use social media platforms in the country, the influence of these platforms will be immense on the approaching elections. Given the fact that social media platforms are extensively being used to spread fake news and hate speech by the right forces especially the Bharatiya Janata Party supporters to polarize the society, this move of the election commission is being welcomed by many.  

Political leaders, social activists, prominent journalists, and concerned citizens have been expressing their grave concerns over the misuse of social media for spreading communal hatred and prejudices through misinformation and fake news. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several union ministers have even been accused of following Twitter users, who have given rape and murder threats on social media, spread fake news and communal hatred.    

Several news websites have even dedicated their services to bust fake news and misinformation. But the biggest question that needs to be answered is whether such massive consumption of misinformation, disinformation, prejudiced news reports, and fake news will allow the elections to happen in a free and fair way?

Will the present mechanism set up by the election commission be able to put a check on such a massive business on social media? Answering that was former IIM professor Jagdeep Chhokar. While speaking to Caravan Daily, he said, “I think it is impossible to put a check on social media. These mechanisms can’t help at all.  It’s good that they have set up some mechanism. Their intention is good. But I think it can’t make an impact on curbing fake news and hate speech.”  

According to him, it is necessary to keep a check on political parties before doing the same on social media. He feels that it will not help unless the functioning of political parties is made transparent and as per law.   

“No mechanism will work unless and until the political parties are disciplined. Political parties must be brought under the Right to Information Act. We need to formulate a law for the functioning of political parties,” he added.     

Questioning the intention of social media companies, he said “How would Google and Facebook get to know that whether the content being published on their platforms are fake news? These organizations did not appear before the parliamentary committee when they were summoned. How would they pay attention to the guidelines of the election commission?”   

Navaid Hamid, president of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, also believes that the mechanism set up by the commission is not going to make any impact on the situation. Rather, it might help to harm the dissent.    

“Social media is an important communication tool today, given the electronic media has become the mouthpiece of the ruling party. There is no doubt about social media being used to pedal fake news. Though it is a welcome step, it is necessary to see how it can be implemented. This is a good move but I don’t think it is going to impact, however, it can this ruling can be used to contain the voice of dissent,” said Hamid.   

He is also of the view that action should be taken against the political parties and not individuals for spreading fake news and hate on social media. He even proposed to have all the fake social media account blocked.   

“It will not help unless the action is taken against the political parties to which the fake news propagator is affiliated to. Fake news is generated to promote the policies of certain political parties. The election commission should ask the social media platforms to identify the fake account and take action against them. The important aspect of this whole campaign would be immediately to request social media officers to urgently identify the fake account and block them,” said Hamid.  

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