Elections 2019: Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook may come under ‘silent period’if EC has its way

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Updated: March 2, 2019 7:22:43 AM

The panel had submitted its recommendations in January this year.

On the rationale behind this, the same source explained that intermediaries are increasingly becoming avenues for manipulating and influencing voters by providing an easy and convenient medium for spreading disinformation, misinformation, fake or hate news across the world.

A committee formed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to give recommendations on Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 has suggested that intermediaries like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter should not be allowed to circulate any election campaign related material for 48 hours till polling is over during elections in a constituency.
Section 126 deals with ‘Silent Period’, which means that no one will propagate any election matter to the public during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of polls for any election in a polling area.
Sources said the 10-member committee, chaired by Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha, said the period of 48 hours before closing time of polling in India is “sacrosanct” and voters are provided a period of silence to “independently consider their decision” of which candidate to vote for on the poll day.

The panel had submitted its recommendations in January this year.

“The committee in its report recommended that intermediaries should also be brought within the scope of Section 126. It also said that there was a consensus on this from a large number of political parties, besides EC’s own recommendations and the recommendations made by the Law Commission,” a source in Election Commission said.

On the rationale behind this, the same source explained that intermediaries are increasingly becoming avenues for manipulating and influencing voters by providing an easy and convenient medium for spreading disinformation, misinformation, fake or hate news across the world.

“Like globally, elections in India too face a similar challenge and this problem is even more pertinent during the 48-hour prohibited period, since during this sensitive period any false allegation against a party or candidate can unduly influence voters and hence there is an urgent need to address this serious concern,” he added.

Confirming the development, a senior government official said that the committee has recommended amending Section 126 of the RP Act and including intermediaries as defined in the Information Technology Act, 2000.

“Committee members were of the view that intermediaries operating in India should commit towards making election unbiased and ensure transparency so as to build confidence in the integrity and legality of political campaigns conducted on their platforms and ensure that the platforms are not misused to vitiate the free and fair character of an election,” he added.

The subject of role of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter during elections gained controversial overtones after the Cambridge Analytica (CA) saga, where the data analytics firm had collected Facebook’s India user’s data and it is alleged that this was done with the intention to sway elections in India by influencing citizens through psychographic profiling.

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