Amidst the 2019 Election being in full swing, the Election Commission on 10th March 2019, announced dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls along with the Model Code of Conduct (“Code”). This Code is a set of guidelines and rules to ensure that the Elections and the campaigning are conducted in just and fair manner. The Code shall be in force till the results are declared.

In the era of digital politics where the media is an important ally and a potent force multiplier, the Election Commission being conscious about the power of media, has issued stringent guidelines on social media usage during elections by political parties and candidates for its progressive engagement.

According to the guidelines framed for the use of social media candidates are required to furnish full details of their social media accounts at the time of filing nominations and their activities on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google and other platforms. These accounts would be monitored and scrutinized by the Election Commission. This is for the first time that the political parties are mandated to ensure that their social media accounts also conform to the official guidelines for “acceptable behavior”.

Provisions of the Code will apply to the content being posted on social media by the candidates or the political parties. Any contravention from the prescribed Code would warrant a stringent action by the Election Commission.

The Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (“MCMCs”) are also constituted at the district and state levels to pre-certify all political advertisements to be issued on social media platform by the parties. One social media expert will be a part of the MCMC at each level.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (“IAMAI”) along with the social media platforms are required to deploy proper fact checkers to scan fake news and abuses on the social media.

Pursuant to the guidelines, the political parties or the candidates are not allowed to post any content that could potentially vitiate the electoral process or hamper peace, tranquility, social harmony and public order.

Candidates and political parties are now obligated to include all payments made to internet companies and websites for carrying advertisements, campaign-related operational expenditure on making creative development of content, salaries and wages paid to the team employed to maintain social media accounts in their campaigning expenditure, including the money spent on social media advertising, in their poll expenditure to be submitted to the Election Authorities.

These guidelines on the face of it seem to have done a good job in formulating a regulatory mechanism for information dissemination through social media. The real problem lies with the implementation and enforcement as the scrutiny and exploration is limited to the declared official accounts of the parties but there are numerous unofficial accounts operating to carry out the messages of these parties, thus enabling violation of the guidelines.

It would be interesting to witness how the third pillar of democracy is used by the political parties at large in propagating their ideologies, promises and agenda through the social media in the world’s largest democracy.



The Indian Lawyer

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