HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The social media giant claimed that it collaborated with the IAMAI to come in terms with ECI’s VCE
  • However, an EC spokesperson has stated FB’s claims to be incorrect, citing ECI internal sections
  • Reports have stated tussles between FB and ECI overtime period for removal of controversial content

Facebook has been in terms with the Election Commission of India (ECI) during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections which were held in the country, as unveiled by reports. The social media giant confirmed a deal with the ECI over a voluntary code of ethics (VCE). It was partnered by the Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which set forth its views in order to manufacture a concord over the rules Facebook was willing to strictly maintain during the elections.

However, an EC spokesperson has stated the claims revealed by Facebook’s internal report to be incorrect. He has said, “Political advertisement on electronic media including social media is always prohibited during the silence period. Section 126(1)(b) of R.P. Act 1951 prohibits the display of any election matter (including political advertisement) by means of television or similar apparatus (electronic media) during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of poll.”

The spokesperson has further added, “as per the VCE (voluntary code of ethics), platforms had committed to act upon the violations of section 126 of R.P. Act, 1951. For this, they had created a dedicated reporting mechanism for ECI under the provisions of VCE.” Amid the controversy, Facebook has claimed that it had collaborated with other social media companies in order to arrive at a voluntary code of ethics with the ECI.

Reports have claimed that Umesh Sinha, the deputy election commissioner back in 2018, set a committee that would suggest the ECI issue guidelines to all social media platforms, barring them from uploading any election propaganda during the 48 hours of silence. Facebook right after the 2019 polls, unboxed a detailed report regarding the company’s performance during the general elections. The reports presented the modus operandi maintained by the company to come in alignment with the Voluntary Code of Ethics (VCE).

A section of the report highlighted Facebook’s electoral policy of combating misinformation and fake news. According to sources, Facebook was radically against the ECI’s directions of taking down electoral ads from the social media platforms during the silence period.

Speaking on this the ECI spokesperson has emphasized the fact that, “TV/Radio channels and cable networks/internet website/social media platforms should ensure that the contents of the programmers’ telecast/ broadcast/displayed by them during the period of 48 hours referred to in Section 126 do not contain any material, including views/appeals by panellists/participants that may be construed as promoting/prejudicing the prospect of any particular party or candidates(s) or influencing/affecting the result of the election.”

Sources have confirmed that Facebook wanted a 72-hour duration for the removal of controversial content, however, EC coaxed the company to accomplish in 24 hours. Besides Facebook, the demand for increased hours for withdrawal of content arrived from other social media companies, however, the EC stuck to its decision giving them only three hours for taking down flagged content.

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