On March 12, Facebook was asked by the Election Commission of India to delete two posts shared by BJP legislator contained pictures of the Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman. This was because the commission had prohibited political parties from publishing content on social media that included images of defense personnel in their campaigns. After this incident, though the ECI and the Facebook acted with speed to remove the posts, it did raise a need to draft and enforce a set of guidelines for social media campaigning.
Election Commission of India Social Media Guidelines
These guidelines were announced by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora while declaring the election dates. According to the Election Commission of India guidelines, it is mandatory by the candidate to provide the details of their social media accounts at the time of filing nominations.
It was also stated that their activities on social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google would also be kept under strict scrutiny.
Political parties and candidates will also be asked to include their campaigning expenditure which will also include the money spent on social media advertising, in their poll expenditure account.
Amongst this, it shall include the payments made to internet companies and websites that carried out their advertisements and also campaign-related operational expenditure that is spent on making creative development of content, salaries and wages to the team employed to maintain social media accounts.
The guidelines state that the candidates and political parties won’t be able to post unverified advertisements, hate speeches and fake news on their accounts.
They are not to post any content that could disturb the peace, social harmony or public order. The social media platforms will also deploy appropriate fact checkers from their side to scan fake news and abuses on social media.
Apart from this, the citizens will also be allowed to report violations confidentially through C-Vigil app.
The new cVIGIL app launched by Election Commission of India is expected to fill the loopholes amidst the campaigning like –
Lack of a channel to receive and track complaints on violations of MCC. Due to the delayed reporting of the violations, it often results in the culprits escape the detection.
Establishing the accuracy of the complaints because of the lack of unhampered, documented evidence in the form of pictures or videos.
Lack of accurately identifying the scene of occurrence by the geographical location details being restricted by election officers’ ability to reach on time to nab the violators.
This will also help in creating a fast track route for receiving the complaints.
Here is a short video about how the c-vigil app works.
In additions to the above guidelines, the provisions of the model code of conduct will also be applied to the content being posted on social media by candidates and political parties. The 48-hour ‘silence period’ will also be applicable.
Any violation by the candidates may lead to action by the Election Commission.