The Election Commission of India (ECI) is about to publish a new code of conduct for political advertisements on social media, primarily on account of the upcoming Lock Sahba general elections, which will be held from the 11th of April 2019 to the 19th of May 2019.
In particular, the advocate Pradeep Rajagopal, ECI Counsel, submitted a written note to the Bombay High Court which states that ECI will prohibit popular social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube publishing any political advertisements on their platforms, unless they have been previously certified by the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee of the ECI.
The note in question was submitted in response to a public interest litigation case filed by the advocate Sagar Suryawanshi, that has sought directions to the ECI to prohibit posting of paid political or election-related content on social media platforms 48 hours before election day, by making Section 126 of the Representation of Peoples Act (i.e., prohibition of public meetings during a period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the polls) applicable to the said platforms.
Advocate Pradeep Rajagopal also referred to a meeting between the commission and the social media platforms which was scheduled to decide and finalize the advertisements which have national interest. During the meeting, the parties will also discuss about the measure which prevents political advertisements to be published on social media without the prior certification issued by the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) of ECI. Such measure will request platforms to promptly remove any unlawful data, information or advertisement already issued without the MCMC certificate.
The ECI will also implement a notification mechanism for identifying and notifying social media intermediaries about any political advertisements for which no pre-certification has been provided by MCMC. The platforms, in particular, shall immediately remove any data, information, advertisements, posts etc. hosted upon or made available through their website upon receipt of the ECI’s direction.
On February 18, Facebook had told the High Court that “it is voluntarily launching a number of tools to expand the transparency of current political advertising policies ahead of the Indian general elections. It has implemented policies and due diligence to help protect the integrity of elections. It is committed to continue new standards of transparency and authenticity for political advertising on its platform.”
The final decision in this respect is expected to be taken on March 26th during the next round of consultations between the ECI, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMA) and the social networking sites.