Ads promoted by candidates should be pre-certified by our panels, says Akshay Rout, Director-General of Election Commission

If the political parties and leaders have assumed that using different modes of social media is a cool way of election campaign without attracting the provisions of electoral law or camouflaging any election expenditure, think again. The Election Commission of India, for the first time, has issued a circular that electoral laws related to election campaigning apply to the social media also.

Akshay Rout, Director-General of Election Commission, who was here recently, said candidates have to furnish their social media accounts in their affidavits at the time of filing nominations. The political parties and candidates should take pre-certification of Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMC) at the district and State levels for any political advertisement released to any social media websites or Internet-based media/websites.

According to Section 77(1) of Representation of the People Act, 1951, candidates and political parties should include all expenditure on campaigning, including on advertisements in social media, payments made to internet companies and websites. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Rout said: We also wrote to social media sites that political advertisements promoted by them should be pre-certified by our committees.

The monitoring committees would ensure that malicious or illegal content in violation of model code of conduct is removed. “But tracking content on social media sites is difficult as the committees have a huge work load. So, we have put the onus on the social media sites now,” he added.

Meanwhile, with social media becoming increasingly popular with the political parties and leaders as an effective election campaign platform to reach out to large audience or engage in interactive two-way communication, the political parties do not seem to mind the Election Commission’s decision to bring social media under the purview of electoral laws.

State BJP’s IT cell convener Kiran Chandra said his party started using this medium sometime back. “We used it to build our support base and most of it is volunteer-driven.

But, of late, some political parties started buying likes on Facebook, promoting tweets by hiring services of others or they have to advertise heavily to get audience to their websites or pages.”

Welcoming the EC’s decision to monitor political advertising or content in the social media sites, Mr. Chandra said social media would continue to be their key platform to reach out to urban electorate.

Lok Satta Party’s State president Katari Srinivasa Rao said it may not be easy to monitor expenditure on social media sites. “For us, other than internet charges, it does not involve much expenditure.

But if some parties are manipulating to generate bulk likes, tweets, then such trends need to be curbed and put into election expenditure of political parties and candidates,” he added.