Social Media Regulations Ahead of the 2019 General Elections in India

Social Media Regulations Ahead of the 2019 General Elections in India

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Social Media Regulations Ahead of the 2019 General Elections in India

India is bracing for the much-awaited general elections in May 2019. Being one of the largest democracies in the world, this sounds the clarion for a big scuffle ahead. Does the increasing use of social media to consume and share content endanger a fair election? Social media companies are springing into action to impose social media regulations before the 2019 general elections in India. Here’s why?

Elections in India – A Motley of Emotions, Drama, Sops & Rhetoric

Elections in India have always been a huge affair. And, with the ongoing tension across the borders and politicization of every big and small affair in the country, it is likely that the 2019 general elections in India will unveil more drama and political unrest.

India currently is a nation of 1.3 billion, of which 875 million citizens are eligible to vote. It is a colossal task to ensure free and fair campaigning in the run-up to the elections. While that has always been a challenge, what has changed in the voting landscape is the penetration of Social Media!

The Power of Social Media

Considering the speed with which words spread across various social media platforms, combating the broadcast of misinformation has posed a challenge. We, the users, have turned the social media into a hyperactive battlefield. It offers hate mongers a free and open platform to spew hatred and foment violence in the guise of their online, mostly fake, profiles!

On average, people share around 6000 tweets in a second!! This means roughly 350,000 tweets minute and 500 million tweets per day!!! Need we say more? Speaking of our favorite messaging app, let us tell you that over 29 million messages circulate on WhatsApp every minute! This means 1.7 billion messages in an hour, and 40 billion every day!!

Place these figures adjacent to the 875 million eligible voters in India. We believe that you now well imagine the influence social media can have on the nation’s potential voter base!

Current Social Media Regulations in India

The reckless use of social media to stoke violence and spread fake news prompted the Government to take hasty steps.

In Dec 2018, the Indian government proposed changes in laws under the Information Technology Act and released draft amendments. These amendments aim at enabling the tracing of the origin of information at the behest of government agencies. It also requires social media platforms to deploy Artificial Intelligence coupled with human content moderators to identify ‘unlawful content or information’, and then remove and disable public access to such content.

The amendments propose that social media platforms ought to inform users to avoid uploading or sharing content that is defamatory, hateful, obscene, objectionable or threatening to national security.

Content Sharing Regulations on WhatsApp

For starters, WhatsApp already implemented a series of regulations in 2018. This included labeling forwarded messages and limiting the number of users one can forward messages to. WhatsApp implemented these steps in the wake of the reckless mob lynching incidents in India due to the unbridled circulation of fake news on the platform.

Furthermore, WhatsApp recently appointed a Grievance Officer for its India operations and also announced the appointment of a country head. What makes this step historic? It is the first time the company took this step for a country harboring its maximum user base.

The Aftermath of the Alleged Data Breach by Facebook

Facebook’s alleged data breach incident prompted India’s Law and IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, to warn the US social media giant of severe action in case they find the platform influencing voters through data theft during the campaigning period of the 2019 general elections in India.

Social Media Regulations Before the 2019 General Elections in India

Social Media Regulations on Facebook

Facebooks ads are widely leveraged by businesses, influencers and even political parties to garner support for a brand or campaign. However, how fair are such ads? Is there a way social media companies can regulate or moderate them to ensure campaigning in the run-up to elections? Or, can they sway the support of voters for or against a political ideology? We have all heard the allegations of Facebook steering Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US Presidential Elections.

So, is the social media giant planning on imposing new regulations in India? Well, yes!

Ahead of the 2019 general elections in India, Facebook has implemented the Political Ads Policy. It aims to enhance the transparency of political advertising i.e. ads involving political parties, political figures, political dogmas or elections.

What is Facebook’s Political Ads Policy All About?

Under this policy, political advertisements will now have disclaimers such as “Paid for by” or “Published by”. Advertisers need to specify these disclaimers when they buy the ad space. This is to enlighten users on the source behind the paid ads that they see on their Facebook timelines.

And, there’s more! Only those who complete authorizations and detailed disclosures about the entity/person responsible for the ad can run a campaign. Facebook shall remove political ads running on the newsfeed without a specified disclosure, and place them in the Ads Library.

For greater transparency, Facebook will enable users to view the primary location of people managing the pages running political ads. Users can find this information in the ‘Info and Ads’ section of the page, along with all their ongoing ads. This shall greatly eliminate fake users operating a page and running ads to radicalize the general public.

Social Media Regulations on Twitter

Twitter has also implemented precautionary measures in India to avoid the use of the platform to influence voters. Through stricter content moderation and regulatory policies, it aims to significantly reduce the spread of fake news or any other provocative content on the platform.

Similar to the steps implemented by Facebook, political advertisers on Twitter users need to apply for certification. From March 11, only certified advertisers can run political campaigning ads on Twitter. Thus, promoted political advertisements will soon have a visual label and disclaimer information.

Plus, users can also view insights such as ad spends, demographic data, and impressions of tweets from political figures.

TikTok – The Current Rage in India

Chinese video app, TikTok, is now a household name in India. The application that enables the creation of 15-second videos with special effects is a rage now, especially in rural India. Wondering why we say rural India? Statistics show that its easier-to-use platform compared to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter makes it a hit with the rural populace. Indians downloaded TikTok over 240 million times so far! In fact, over 30 million users in India installed TikTok in January 2019, a 12 times growth over January 2018!

Ever since it gained popularity in India, the platform has been mostly used to upload and share entertaining videos. Still, one cannot rule out the possibilities of its use in sharing polarizing content to influence the upcoming elections.

Regulations on TikTok Ahead of the 2019 General Elections in India

The governing and opposition parties in India have not yet joined the TikTok platform. However, videos with #narendramodi and #rahulgandhi tags have over 30 million and 13 million viewers respectively! Analytics show that the views for political videos on the platform are far higher.

The repugnant app is not so much of a hit with urban elites though. M. Manikandan, Minister of Information Technology – Tamil Nadu, has urged the federal government to ban the app due to its obnoxious content.

Although TikTok says that there’s no cause for concern as they’ve been constantly prioritizing a positive and safe in-app environment. Nevertheless, government officials have requested the platform to comply with the new regulations as and when are they are implemented.

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) – In the League of Combating Misuse of Social Media Platforms

Social media is a powerful platform. One cannot undermine the impact it can have on millions of people across the globe – be is positive or negative. Now, with the upcoming general elections in India, will these new social media regulations be sufficient for a fair game? That is for time to answer. Let us hope that these platforms create a healthy and neutral pre-election environment.

Incognito Forensics Foundation (IFF Lab) is a premier digital and cyber forensics laboratory situated in Bangalore. It provides assistance to law enforcement agencies with criminal and non-criminal investigations involving digital forensics. Additionally, IFF Lab also conducts training and awareness camps to educate citizens on cybercrime preparedness and cybersecurity.

Contact IFF Lab for Cybersecurity Assistance and Consultation.