Political messages on WhatsApp groups difficult to monitor unless someone complains: Sanjiv Kumar

Sanjiv Kumar, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Karnataka

Sanjiv Kumar, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Karnataka

With the Election Commission of India (ECI) outlining stringent guidelines for social media usage during the Lok Sabha elections, political parties and candidates will not be able to post unverified advertisements, photographs of defence personnel, hate speeches, and fake news on their accounts. These guidelines have also led to confusion among users of social media and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp. In an interview on Monday, Sanjiv Kumar, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Karnataka, clarified the doubts. Excerpts:

The ECI guidelines have created confusion among people regarding the use of social media. Does this mean political parties and candidates cannot use social media for campaigning?

If they use social media for campaign, candidates and political parties are required to include it in their campaign expenditure, including the money spent on social media advertising.

This, among other things, shall include payments made to Internet companies and websites for carrying advertisements and also campaign-related operational expenditure on making creative development of content, and salaries and wages paid to the team employed to maintain social media accounts.

How will you monitor political advertisements on social media?

All political advertisements on social media will require pre-certification from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMCs) at the district and State levels.

These advertisements will be part of the poll expenditure of the party. Provisions of the model code of conduct will also apply to the content being posted on social media by candidates and political parties. Any violation can lead to action by the Election Commission.

Candidates are also required to furnish details of their social media accounts at the time of filing nominations, and their activities on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Google would be under the Election Commission’s close scrutiny. The platforms will also deploy appropriate fact-checkers to scan fake news and abuses on social media.

How will you monitor messages on private WhatsApp groups?

We have no control on individual messages on WhatsApp groups unless someone complains. The end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp ensures that only the individual and the person with whom he/she is communicating can read what has been sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. Without any complaint from users, we cannot take any action. People can complain on our helpline, 1950.

There have been instances of leaders citing the recent Pulwama terror attack and the air strikes by India in their election speeches. Does that amount to violation?

As per the guidelines, no political party or candidate must display photographs of defence personnel on social media for campaigning purpose. They must also not post any content that could vitiate the electoral process or disturb peace, tranquillity, social harmony, and public order.

The polling dates in Karnataka — April 18 and April 23 — will clash with an extended weekend. Will it affect voter turnout?

With several voter awareness campaigns not just by us but also non-governmental organisations, people have realised the importance of voting. This time, voter awareness groups headed by the human resources (HR) heads have been set up in several private companies. Some big companies have made it mandatory for their employees to vote. As a holiday is given on the polling day, the employees should go back and show the ink mark on their finger the next day, failing which action will be taken. More companies are coming forward to take up this initiative.

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Printable version | Aug 21, 2022 1:53:50 pm |