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Elections and Social Media (1 October 2020)

Elections and Social Media (1 October 2020)

Why in News:

Assembly Elections in Bihar and by-elections in some other states have been announced.

Context:

During the Covid-19 pandemic social media is likely to play a very important role in these elections. Former Maharashtra Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Devendra Fadnavis said on 28 September that social media is going to play the most important role in the upcoming Bihar Assembly Election 2020. He said that the workers should focus on ways to attract the public through social media.

Background:

With over 560 million internet users, India is the second largest online market in the world, ranked only behind China. It was estimated that by 2023, there would be over 650 million internet users the country.

 A study done by PewResearch says nearly 45% of Indian web usersconnect on social media to discuss politics.

In 2013, Election Commission of India ruled that the model code of conduct and its pre-certified political advertisement rules will apply to the social media as well. Earlier, pre-certification was restricted to print and electronic media.

Summary of the Debate

Role of Social Media in Elections:

  • Election management had a very interesting relation with media and social media.
  • Media is natural ally, in election time lot of things to be informed to the electorate. India is the largest electorate of the world, in Bihar only, it is 7.3 crore electorate. This is the largest election after the pandemic came in the world.
  • Social media gave hope two decades back when it came, election management people thought that they can easily connect to millions and millions of people but soon, this type of hope became fear because even globally, the social media measures are being called to legislative committees whether it is Facebook or Google, they have been asked to explain why certain wrong things are happening.
  • In India, even relating to covid-19, there is penalty on bad social media, the footprint is so little, election expenditure control finds it very challenging to measure the footprints and cost rate, that is why, during the last elections, not only there could be hate posts, there could be fake news, but election commission has become very serious about it.
  • Dduring the last national election 2019, in which the commission was forced to almost extract from these platforms a code of ethics, model code of conduct is there which is very slattery and which has a lot of impact on political parties and process but still many times, it is the deviance is not able to be made accountable to be actioned upon.
  • The people who have larger network and larger ideas in terms of penetration, they get a mileage in that, BJP has started their digital outreach much before anybody thought about it, Prime Minister had several meetings not actually political but in terms of government initiatives that he was taking, then many other leaders holding virtual rally and that way it goes on.
  • In terms of voting behaviour that social media orchestrates, social media is just a fashion and style and people want to connect, but people have made up their minds for other reasons and maybe political competition is major one among them.

Influence of Social Media on Elections and Voting Behaviour in India:

  • The social media have a huge impact on decision making of the people.
  • Online social networks have completely changed the spreading of information by making it easy to share and digest information on the internet
  • Earlier, it was generally one-way communication prior to advent of social and digital media. Now this is a two-way communication, the subaltern people all around have got their voices and they express their voice.
  • A person is continuously fed with information on digital platforms to vote for a particular party.
  • In a study, it was found that young people tend to get political information from social media more than any other age group.Indian Elections And The Impact Of Social Media | Dignitas Digital

Challenges:

  • Looking at a lack of data protection framework as of now and which allows unrestricted access to personal data, now this personal data can be manipulated by political agents, this can be manipulated by different entities to spread targeted misinformation.
  • Political Advertisements on social media are often misleading and cause offences.
  • Online advertising is not subject to direct regulation.
  • There is no limitationon volume of advertisement by any political parties.
  • The online digital platforms present a particular risk in relation to fake news and disinformation.
  • The distribution of the manipulative content through social media is proving destructive for the free and fair election.

Way Forward:

  • It’s not about the laws, but it’s about the enforceability of the law also. So, looking at that aspect, there is a scope of law whereas applicability and enforceability of these laws is concerned.
  • There is need to have more clear regulation whereas content is concerned, whereas content is made, whereas absence of any clear legal basis is concerned, whereas amplification of specific news is concerned.
  • We need to have a dedicated fact checking machine which should be so robust that election commission can have dedicated platforms to look in to that aspect.
  • There is a need of dedicated laws which bring social media platforms also liable when any kind of unethical conduct is happening on their platform and after having an information or knowledge about it, they do not act upon it.  

Important points made by the Guests

Akshay Rout, Former Director General, Election Commission of India

  • Compared to the national penetration of more than 50 percent of internet, Bihar has about 30 percent and this smartphone penetration is that or even a less. So, this is not sure if political parties will really do a lot of wise thing by moving greatly in to social media but it’s a pandemic affected election and virtual campaigning is one of the ways that they have to fall back on, so the social media is likely to have a little larger role.
  • In terms of mass media connectivity also, Bihar is not very high up among the states.
  • Now, the social media measures have taken a voluntary ethics, they will take their political advertisement separate from other social media posts, they will take the concurrence of the election commission, they will also do fact checks and they will do immediate withdrawal of any wrong thing.
  • Like the government of the day or like the other sectors in the society, generally election commission would tend to believe that self-regulation is the best regulation for media including social media. It takes social media as one of the electronic media that is why it says that if electronic media is subjected to more, the MCMC (Media Certification and Monitoring Committee) from which all electronic media has to take clearance before it puts out a political advertisement, so also social media.
  • So, they have put social media in the bracket of electronic media, but electronic media is also not sort of fully controlled or regulated, there is a section 126 which put a shackle on any types of election related broadcast by electronic media, also by social media, 48 hours before the close of the election, so those will apply and MCC (Model Code of Conduct)  has certain provisions which relate to media behavior, there is another special media code also which election commission circulates.
  • Now, for social media, they are interacting with their intermediaries and associations and particularly for the last few years and more remarkably, during the last general election 2019, and it has given some results because everyone has become conscious, there are fact checkers, there are violation checkers in the social media platforms, but in its own arrangement, election commission of India keeps an eagle’s eye on the whole thing. They have a committee which will always change and scan every part of the social media to find if there is anything negative which could reshape the process, cause unrest or disturb harmony and cause a lot of difficulties for the mutual elections.

 Khushbu Jain, Cyber Laws Expert   

  • With the kind of increase in on social media platforms or increase on digital platform that has almost been more than three to four hundred percentage.
  • All of us seen that kind of impact Cambridge Analytica had when it comes to changing the mindset or moving the mindset of voter base is concerned.
  • There has been instances where self-regulated and censorship of illegal content on social media platforms whereas elections are concerned are being issued by the commission very specifically, the platforms have to have their self-regulation and censorship but at the same time the kind of technology we are talking about, it is not yet equipped to deal with such digital propaganda as of now.

 Sanjay Singh, Senior Journalist 

  • Social media largely in India in terms of election management means WhatsApp groups, Twitter, Facebook, etc., but in terms of reach WhatsApp groups actually communicate things very fast.
  • The time is very significant here, it communicates message very fast, but the issue is how do people actually relate with social media.
  • What makes an election in India even if that color was missing for last several decades, even then there was some color in the sense, public rallies, people campaigning, small hand bills, people making different kind of Nukkar Sabha, those would be missing and that is replaced by the digital network outreach by political parties and leaders at large.
  • But what actually makes a difference is that WhatsApp groups and how many WhatsApp groups one has created and how those groups are able and leaders there are able to receive the communication or the feedback that is coming through those groups.
  • We shall differentiate between the outreach of social media in these elections, of course this is going to be a watershed election, in terms of the way digital media is going to play a role because that also has become a means of actual main campaigning, the tool of main campaign.
  • Social media or digital platforms was a subsidiary in last any of the election. This time around that is the main platform through which political parties are reaching out to people. The part that how much it plays on psyche of the voter that’s a different question altogether.
  • The issue is you cannot win an electoral war with social media unless you have a vast army of foot soldiers, strong delivery mechanism, strong communication mechanism who people believe in terms of leadership structure and also the kind of way you manage your elections.
  • New dimensions may be created for coming elections because leaders also get fatigue reaching out to people, the senior leaders would travel crisscross the whole state, 5 to 10 rallies across the day and also, they have to look for election management.

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