Election Commission Guidelines On Campaigning On Social Media

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India has large young population which are very much dependent on social media. Importance of social media has been increasingly recognized by political parties & by candidates who are contesting election (experts are being hired, candidates are being trained, smart phones are being given). The only problem with this area is that it is totally unregulated. Recently, Election Commission took a good step of coming out with new guidelines on campaigning on social media which was the need of hour.
  • According to Election Commission social media refers to "the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks". It differentiates from traditional/industrial media in many aspects such as quality, reach, frequency, usability,  immediacy, and permanence.
  •  Legal provisions relating to election campaigning apply to social media in the same manner in which they apply to any other form of election campaigning using any other media.
  • Types of media clubbed under various heads are as follows:
1. collaborative projects (for example, Wikipedia)
2. blogs and micro blogs (for example, Twitter)
3. content communities (for example, YouTube)
4. social networking sites (for example, Facebook)
5. virtual game-worlds (e.g., Apps)
Growth of social media in India
1. Large chunk of Indian population is still out of reach of Social Media.
2. Research shows that about 80% of all internet users visit one social networking site or another with Facebook and Twitter being top in their list.
3. The highest traffic at sites like Facebook, Orkut and Twitter comes from Metro cities like Mumbai, although the smaller cities do account to 60 % of the remaining traffic.
The traffic can be attributed to different age groups and depends on the particular social media site; for instance, LinkedIn gets a lot of traffic from age groups between 25 and 34, whereas dating sites get a lot of traffic from teenagers and youngsters in their early twenties.
1. Information to be given by candidates about their social media accounts
The Commission finds it necessary that authentic social media accounts of candidates should also be informed to the Commission. This information should be furnished in the said Para 3 of Form-26 as follows:-
“My contact telephone no.(s) is/are………………….,
my email ID (if any) is ………………., and
my social media accounts (if any) are…………………………..”
2. Pre-Certification of Political Advertisements
You are, therefore, requested to ensure that no political advertisements are released to any internet based media/websites, including social media websites, by political parties/candidates without pre-certification from competent authorities like Media Certification and Monitoring Committees at district and State levels in the same format and following the same procedures as referred in the aforesaid orders.
3. Expenditure on campaigning through internet including social media websites. Expenditure incurred on campaigning on social media has to be added to official party expenditure & the same should be reported to Election commission.
4. Advertisement details being posted online be given to election commission.
5. Application of Model Code of Conduct to content on internet including social media: The Commission has a model code of conduct in place during the elections in respect of political parties and candidates which remains in force from the date the elections are announced by the Commission till the completion of elections. It is clarified that the provisions of model code of conduct and related instructions of the Commission issued from time to time shall also apply to the content being posted on the internet, including social media websites, by candidates and political parties.
1. May lead to undermining of ‘freedom of expression’ (a constitutional fundamental right)
2. Implementation is very hard.
3. Responsibility: Identification of people who ruin someone’s image is difficult. Law in such case is very weak & controversial.
4. Elimination of proxy people: Many people are acting as a proxy & are campaigning or defaming some political party or some candidate.
5. Proxy social media: There exist a huge range of various proxy social media campaigning being done by forces outside the country. They are acting as pressure groups. It has both positive and negative implications. Paid volunteers & Call centers are being used for mass advertisement on social media.
6. No strong laws present (for example 171 H of IPC – whosoever without the authority of the candidate does expenditure [for example on social media] he shall be punishable with a fine of Rs.500.) Such small penalties are not proving helpful.
Recent good landmarks of election commission
1. Guidelines for ‘paid news’ in the electronic media & now same will apply to social media.
2. Declared to implement NOTA effectively after the Supreme Court decision.
Media Certification and Monitoring Committee at District and State levels will play a responsible role in implementation of new guidelines & look after paid    news.
MCMC shall scan all media ( e.g. newspapers, print media, electronic media, cable network, internet, mobile network etc) for :
  • suspected cases of paid news
  • monitoring of political advertisements in electronic media (for checking if the telecast/broadcast has been done only after certification by the Committee)
  • monitoring political advertisements in other media, in relation to candidates, either overt or covert, from Expenditure monitoring angl
  • advertisements in print media (MCMC shall check if the advertisement is with the consent or knowledge of candidate: in which case it will be accounted for in the election expenses of the candidate(s); however, if the advertisement is not with the authority from the candidate, then action may be taken for prosecution of the publisher for violation of Section 171H of IPC)
  • checking if the name and address of the publisher and the printer is carried on any election pamphlet, poster, hand bill and other document as required under Section 127A of R.P.A 1951 (If any printed material does not bear on its face the names and addresses of the printer or the publisher, MCMC shall bring it to the notice of the RO for further necessary action; For the purpose of section 127 of RPA 1951, ‘Paid News’ would also fall in the category of ‘other document’)
District Level Media certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC)
The District level MCMC shall be formed in each district with the following members:
(a) DEO/RO (of Parliamentary Constituency)
(b) ARO(not below SDM)
(c) Central Govt. I & B Ministry official (if any in the district)
(d) Independent Citizen/Journalist as may be recommended by PCI
(e) DPRO/District Information Officer/equivalent – Member Secretary
The committee shall have two distinct sets of functions:
(i) Certification of Advertisements for which two specific members of MCMC i.e. RO & ARO shall have to consider and decide on such advertisements for certification.
(ii) Examining complaints/issues of Paid News etc by all members through a monitoring arrangement.
State level MCMC
The State level MCMC shall comprise of the following officers:
(a) The Chief Electoral Officer, Chairman
(b) Any Observer appointed by the Election Commission of India
(c) One expert to be co-opted by the Committee.
(d) Officer of Indian Information Service (IIS), (at the level of US/DS) posted in the State/UT, representing a media Department of Government of India as separate from the expert at (c) above.
(e) Independent citizen or journalist as nominated by PCI (if any)
(f) Addl/Jt CEO in charge of Media (Member Secretary)
The State level MCMC shall perform two sets of functions:
(i) Deciding appeal from both District and Addl/Jt CEO Committees on Certification of advertisement as per the aforesaid Commission order dated 15th April 2004.
(ii) Examining all cases of Paid News on appeal against the decision of District MCMC or cases that they may take up suo motu, in which case it shall direct the concerned ROs to issue notices to the candidates.
Measures to be taken
  • New laws needed.
  • Change in Peoples Representation Act is necessary.
  • Implementation of such guidelines should be done with ‘caution’.
  • As far as the content posted by persons other than candidates and political parties is concerned, the Commission is considering the matter in consultation with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology on practical ways to deal with the issue, in so far as they relate to, or can be reasonably connected with, the election campaigning of political parties and candidates.
Positive Impacts of Social Media
1. People are getting aware of their rights & unjust laws.
2. Gave rise to political awakening (like Arab public protest).
3. Can tackle various hardcore issues like corruption, rape, etc., which can’t be dealt in a conventional way.
Negative Impacts of Social Media
1. Connecting with all of people is coming at a great cost. Not in terms of monetary value but as a direct attack of already weak social fiber.
2. Situations where it lead to virtual panic kind of thing which forced people of one state to flee to other state.
3. Can be used to spread violence & increase communal tension.
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