Social media, especially the popular messaging app WhatsApp has been a big part of the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh. According to The Indian Express, District Magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, NP Singh has said that the administration will have WhatsApp and other social media messaging apps used for campaigning as part of election expenses for UP. Gautam Buddh Nagar has three constituencies, of which Noida is a big part, will go into polls for the first phase on February 11. The administration, according to the report could also register cases against parties or candidates. spreading propaganda or fake information through WhatsApp.
Singh informed IE that any candidate who wishes to do campaigning on social media, electronic media or messaging, it is important that he/she seeks permission from MCMC (Media Certification and Monitoring Committee). The committee, in turn, will have to approve the cost of the campaign and its content. Singh added that if the permission is not taken, a case will be filed under Representation of People Act 1951 and if one is found circulating communal messages, a FIR might also be lodged.
Singh also told IE that since messaging is free on WhatsApp and only uses internet charges, does not mean that costs will not be taken into consideration. Singh was quoted as saying, “As far as WhatsApp is concerned, agencies first register themselves with TRAI and then they sign a business agreement with telemarketers. We have said that the rate fixed by this agreement will be applied to messages sent on WhatsApp.”
Singh has added that there was a meeting between telecom operators. He said that they will block numbers if individuals are found circulating controversial messages between more than 100 numbers and they will be traced by a Cyber Crime Cell.
Circulation of messages containing communally sensitive content is quite common in UP, which was evident after the infamous Dadri and Muzaffarnagar incidents. Dadri is a part of Gautam Budh Nagar district itself. According to IE, a message has been circulating among people in Dadri, Noida and Jewar constituencies, and it reads as: “Any group/voice messages regarding election activities in bulk without the prior consent of District Election Officer is an offence — by DEO Gautambuddh Nagar.” According to the report, apart from parties, telecom operators is also conducting an awareness campaign for voters as well.