Says it has come into force in the interest of “maintaining transparency and a level playing field during polls”

The Election Commission on Friday issued a series of instructions to political parties and candidates on utilising the Internet and social media websites for poll campaign and advertisements, asking them to strictly abide by the model code of conduct. This regulation has come into force in the interest of “maintaining transparency and a level playing field during polls.”

In a letter sent to Chief Electoral Officers of the States and the Union Territories, and recognised national and regional political parties, the Commission made it clear that the order would be applicable to social media sites such as Wikipedia, blogs, microblogs such as Twitter, content communities like YouTube, social networking sites such as Facebook, and virtual game-worlds (Apps).

As per the new order, every candidate, at the time of filing the nomination, has to give their e-mail Ids and accounts of their social networking sites, if any, for monitoring by poll/expenditure officials. Contents of the advertisements issued by parties/candidates in such websites should be pre-certified by the appropriate authorities and all expenditure made towards such campaign/advertisement would be included in the election expenditure accounts of candidates/parties.

The Commission clarified that the provisions of the code of conduct and related instructions issued by it would apply to the content being posted on the Internet, including the social media websites, by candidates and parties. “As far as the content posted by persons other than candidates and political parties is concerned, the Commission is considering the matter in consultation with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology on practical ways to deal with the issue, in so far as they relate to, or can be reasonably connected with, the election campaigning of political parties and candidates,” the Commission’s circular said.

Payments made to social media websites — for carrying advertisements, expenditure on development of content, and spending on salaries for staff hired to maintain the social media accounts of the parties and the candidates — would be included in poll expenses.

The Commission’s order is significant in view of the ongoing election process for the Assembly polls in Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan. The SMS facility, availed of by candidates and political parties during campaign, is already under the scanner of the Commission’s poll expenditure monitoring officials.

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