The Election Commission of India (EC) called on social media organisations on Tuesday to frame their own “general code of ethics” to deal with abuse of platforms. The code is meant not only for upcoming Lok Sabha elections but also as a lasting guideline.
Social media giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok and ShareChat attended the meeting. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) too was present to discuss reducing outside influence during elections and to seek updates on efforts to control misuse of platforms.
Operational details of the code are to be laid down by Wednesday evening, when representatives are due to meet again. The code is to be drafted in line with the Model Code of Conduct set by the EC, which is followed by all parties for election speeches, manifestos, on polling day and in election booths.
According to a statement issued by the EC, “The meeting was centered on discussing issues like appointment of dedicated grievance channel for expeditious action by the organizations, pre-certification and transparency in expenditure of political advertisements.”
In the run up to the general elections, scheduled to begin on April 11, the EC has addressed issues like fake news and misinformation. Social media companies gave presentations to the EC during the meeting, talking about steps taken to deal with fake news, transparency of political advertisements and expenditures undertaken for it.
Election commissioner Ashok Lavasa also addressed the necessity of voluntarily restraint in speech. “Voluntary restraint is a hallmark of civilised society and works as effectively as any regulation," he said.
EC officials said a clear clause for users to not misuse social media platforms for election or political purposes should be considered and punitive action taken against violators. Social media companies were also asked to evolve a notification mechanism to deal with violations of Section 126 of the Representation of People (RP) Act, 1951, which prohibits advertising and campaigning on TV and other electronic media 48 hours before voting.
Among those who attended the meeting were Facebook’s India public policy director Shivnath Thukral, Twitter’s India public policy head Mahima Kaul, Google’s India public policy director Chetan Krishnaswamy, ShareChat’s policy head Berges Malu and ByteDance India’s legal counsel Apurva Mehta.