The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) will come up with a voluntary ‘code of ethics’ along the lines of Model Code of Conduct during the Lok Sabha elections by today evening.
The Election Commission of India had called the heads of social media companies – Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google, ShareChat, TikTok and BigoTV for a meeting. Sunil Arora, the chief election commissioner said the Code of Ethics will work to prevent inappropriate or objectionable political advertisements.
Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa said voluntary restraint is a hallmark of civilized society and works as effectively as any regulation. Lavasa brought forth the concept of a clear clause with users voluntarily agreeing not to misuse the social media platforms for election or political purposes.
The social media companies provided updates on the appointment of dedicated grievance redressal channels to expedite action on problematic content and mechanisms to prevent platform abuse. TikTok informed everyone in the meeting that it does not run advertisements in India and doesn’t have any official political party accounts on its platform.
Section 126 of R.P. Act 1951 was also discussed and they looked at ways of preventing the misuse of the platforms. Section 126 prohibits displaying of any election matter by means, inter alia, of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the fixed hour for conclusion of poll in a constituency.
However, not much action is perceived to take place by the Election Commission as political parties have tapped into the widespread popularity of WhatsApp to share messages and (mis)information for political gain.
The parties have invested money into creating hundreds of thousands of WhatsApp group chats to spread political messages and memes. More than 900,000 volunteer ‘cell phone pramukhs’ are creating neighborhood-based WhatsApp groups to disseminate information about the ruling party’s, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), development achievements. On the other hand, the opposition, Indian National Congress, has launched its ‘Digital Sathi’ app and have put in place volunteers to coordinate their local digital campaigns.
If social media platforms start putting curbs on its usage for political gains, the political parties will definitely look at other ways such as apps to its target audience.