The last Presidential elections in the US (2016) were overshadowed by many controversies, one of the main ones being the Russians were able to influence many American voters on Facebook. Post the US elections, other countries too warned Facebook of meddling with their elections (Germany).
One of the main issues during the US elections was that Facebook accepted political campaigns from people (read as “Russia”) who were not associated with either of the political parties, rather they were not even US citizens.
Social media was used in a big way for the first time in India for the General Elections of 2014. And it was largely dominated by the BJP, specifically by Prime Minister & then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Five years have gone by fast. General Elections 2019 is just around the corner.
Social media and technology platforms are taking preventive steps to avoid any controversies & meddling with the upcoming General Elections 2019 in India. In April and May 2019, Indians will go to the polls to elect a new Lok Sabha, the 545-seat lower house of the Indian Parliament. India is the largest democracy in the world – a whopping 900 million are eligible to vote and the country has 500 million internet users (not all of them are eligible to vote though).
About 20 million (2
Every political party wants to target this first time voter and they rightly assume most of these first time voters have access to the internet.
WhatsApp and Elections in India
WhatsApp has been the most popular platform for political advertising since General Elections 2014. But then it went overboard with the spread of fake news by the advertisers. WhatsApp was forced to limit the number of forwards to 5 per day per WhatsApp account. That move pretty much killed their impact.
Also, WhatsApp is using AI tools to detect and ban accounts that spread “problematic content” through mass messaging.
India has 43 crore (430 million) smartphones. There are 87,000 groups targeting voters, which could reach a max of 2.2 crore (22 million) voters as each group can have a max of 256 users.
Political parties purchase each mobile number for 10 paise (Rs 0.10). Digital warriors have been trying to work around the new restrictions introduced by WhatsApp to avoid being detected for spamming.
In a nutshell, political parties are feeling the heat due to the restrictions introduced by WhatsApp and are likely to think out of the box for the upcoming elections. I think spamming on WhatsApp will not work anymore.
WhatsApp launched a tip line to which you can send forwards, rumours and have them verified. All you need to do is forward your message to +919643000888, and reply with ‘1’ when prompted if you want the forwarded message to be verified. You can forward text, images, links (URLs), videos in English, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu. This tipline is powered by Proto, Dig Deeper Media, and Meedan.
Google And Elections in India
While Google isn’t a platform like FB, Twitter, WhatsApp it is still very important platform for elections. Google tries to get rid of fake news being indexed. I think Google took the right step in working with the digital publishers in India to train the journalists for the upcoming General Elections.
Google News Initiative’s 30-city roadshow from Feb 26-April 6 to train journalists covering the Indian General Elections in 10 languages. If you are a journalist you can apply here to get trained by Google.
In March 2019, Google will release ‘The India Political Ads Transparency Report’ and a searchable Ads Library. Only verified advertises can run political ads on Google in India. More details of the policy are here.
Facebook and Elections in India
Of all the platforms the spotlight is on Facebook – watchdogs want to see how they will be able to prevent any manipulation during the elections. FB has anticipated certain kind of attacks and has started working on them. India is one of Facebook’s most important electoral tests this year. Few of the steps taken by FB are,
- Deletion of fake accounts
- Identifying & removing bad actors. Pages repeatedly sharing fake news would be penalized by blocking their monetization
- Limiting the spreading of fake news & misinformation. Working with multiple third-party fact-checking organizations to identify fake news and misinformation.
- Expanding the political advertising policies to other countries including India. Especially prevent foreign interference, authorization required for the purchase of political ads.
Post the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, the government of India wanted to know from Facebook if they had allowed any foreign interference in Indian elections. Recently Facebook appointed a journalist to be the election integrity lead for India. The reactions on Twitter for this was mixed.
Update: On April 1 Facebook brought down over 700 assets which were suspected of acting in a “coordinated inauthentic behavior”.
Twitter And Elections in India
In August 2018 Twitter Founder & CEO Jack Dorsey admitted Twitter (the platform) was left-leaning. This largely happens because the employees at Twitter support the Left.
Twitter was accused of banning many handles of conservatives in the US. The same pattern of banning right-leaning handles was seen in India during December 2018 (video). Very few remember the govt in 2012 had got Twitter to the ban handles that were supporting the Right. The government of India has asked senior management of Twitter from the US (not from India) to appear in person to explain these issues. In Jan 2019, Twitter reportedly had about 34 million users in India.
Twitter maintains that its algorithm is not having a bias towards any group (Left or Right). So why do the conservatives (Right) feel they are targetted on Twitter? Few reasons could be,
- Manipulation of trending topics
- Shadow banning of users (the poster sees his/her tweet on their own Timeline but that tweet isn’t seen on the follower’s TL). Twitter earlier “fixed” this problem in the US.
- “Some” accounts were experiencing issues with Likes & Retweets. A “good bug” should be applicable across the platform, else it is always seen as a “feature” rather than a “bug”. See this,
From March 11th, 2019 Twitter in India will implement their new rules related to political advertising. Political advertisers in India must apply now for certification to be able to advertise for the General Elections 2019 in India. Only the following in India will quality to advertise on Twitter during elections.
- Political parties registered with the Election Commission of India (ECI)
- ECI registration certificate or founding documents of the political party
- Organizations not registered with the ECI
- Corporate Identification Number (CIN)
- Document showing proof of the business’ address
- Corporate Identification Number (CIN)
- Individuals or candidates
- Government-issued ID containing the address of the individual
- Receipt for Nomination Paper and Notice of Scrutiny (candidates only)
Update: On March 20, 2019, IAMAI & social media platforms presented a “Voluntary Code of Ethics for the General Election 2019” to Chief Election Commissioner of India. The social media platforms were represented by Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google, ShareChat and TikTok.
Each platform will form dedicated teams during the period of General Elections for taking expeditious action on any reported violations. Participants have also agreed to provide a mechanism for political advertisers to submit pre-certified advertisements issued by Media Certification and Monitoring Committee. The Code of Ethics also promises to facilitate transparency in paid political advertisements.
IAMAI has agreed to coordinate with participants various steps mentioned in this code. Participants have also committed to voluntarily undertake voter awareness campaigns.
The digital landscape for political campaigning (publishing & marketing on digital platforms) has changed substantially since the previous General Elections of 2014. Each platform has restricted only verified advertisers to spend money on political ads. The upcoming Loksabha Elections in India is getting very interesting. Nail biting like a T20 match, or will it be a Test Match? Only time will tell. Anyways, please DO VOTE, be a responsible citizen.
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