As 2019 General Election Gets Closer, Social Media Giants Roll Out Political Ads Policy

As the nation edges closer towards the poll day, parties are cognizant about the role of social media in shaping the voters’ perception and the election at large.

With misinformation continuing to pose a challenge for parties and opposing cadres fervently trying to spread factually incorrect news piece over platforms like Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and even YouTube, law and order agencies are tightening the noose around these tech giants.

Following the 2016 US election meddling, which brought to the limelight the role political advertisement in influencing election, in India too the development has had a trickling effect. 

In February this year, in a hearing at the Bombay High Court regarding the strict monitoring of political advertisement in social media, Facebook and Google revealed that the companies will lay down stringent rules pertaining to political and campaigning.

Though these companies have already had existing rules regarding fake content dissemination, for the hearing, the companies voluntarily came forward to make suggestions towards tightening the existing rules.

In a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), filed by a Mumbai-based lawyer, he demanded that the Election Commission of India strictly regulate fake news prevalent in the social media and asked the social media giants to make the advertisement of political ads through their platform invalid 48 hours before the election.

“Beginning Thursday, any Indian national who wishes to post an advertisement on politics or any matter of national interest on Facebook will need to submit his or her ID card issued by a valid Indian authority, submit proof of residence based in India, and pay for it only in Indian currency,” said Facebook’s counsel Darius Khambata told the bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice N M Jamdar that from February 21.

However, the case was adjourned for further hearing with no rules being about the same.

On the March 7 rehearing of the case, the bench asked the panel why there was a delay in ratifying the rule.

Following this, Facebook told the court that they have introduced a strict pre-verification process for all political ads and paid content of natural interest. YouTube told the court that they will promote content that has been verified by the ECI.

Though a rule is yet to be formulated from the ECI’s end, all the major five companies have agreed to toe the line when it comes to the political ad and other related paid content matter.

We look at some of the existing measures that are adopted by these companies and how they differ:

Google: As part of Goole’s Transparent Policy, the company listed out rules and regulations pertaining to a political advertisement for parties across India.

The verification procedure began from February 14 and may last for 3-4 days. As part of the procedure, the political parties, registered businesses, non-profit organizations, individuals (political candidates) can run political ads. As part of the primary verification procedure the

Google requires that all election ads contain a disclosure identifying who has paid for the ad. For most ad formats, Google will automatically generate a “Paid for by” disclosure using the information provided during this verification process.  In addition, the rules state that only an authorised representative of a political party can complete the verification process.

“You must be an authorized representative for your organization in order to complete the verification process. To be an authorized representative, you need to be a full-time employee of the organization, or if applicable, a representative of the agency representing the organization,” stated.

In India, to adhere to local law the company stated that it will allow ads promoting accounting services to show in India as long as they don’t promote a particular accountant.

YouTube: For the March 7 hearing at Bombay HC, the representative of YouTube told the court that they will promote content that has been verified by the ECI.

Further, Google’s Transparency Policy also encompasses YouTube, with regards to feature political ad in Youtube, the disclosure will be shown in “Why this ad?” which can be accessed through the info icon  or the 3-dot icon

Twitter: The company recently expanded its political ads policy and Ad Transparency Centre in India, which will let its users know details amount the amount paid, targeted audience and reach.

It also said that political advertisement in limited tp certified advertisers will be allowed to run political campaigning ads on Twitter, who has to undergo certification processes first.

“This is part of our overall goal to protect the health of the public conversation on our service and to provide meaningful context around all political entities who use our advertising products,” Twitter said in a statement.

Facebook: Highlighting the measures that it will take to ensure fair election process, Facebook in January announced that it is expanding its effort to protect elections in 2019.

“Our tactics include blocking and removing fake accounts; finding and removing bad actors; limiting the spread of false news and misinformation; and bringing unprecedented transparency to political advertising,” it said is a blog spot.  Further, it said that more than 30,000 people working on safety and security across the company.

In Asia particularly, its focus is to stop hate speech and voter suppression by leveraging their technological capabilities , “These teams will add a layer of defense against fake news, hate speech and voter suppression, and will work cross-functionally with our threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, community operations, legal and other teams”, it added.

In India, the company has tightened the noose around political ad placing. According to Facebook, now it is mandatory for the political parties to disclose their identity and location before placing an advertisement.

WhatsApp: India is the largest market for WhatsApp with an estimated 200 million users and it has ruled out exiting India market post the proposed amendments to the IT Act. However, it is closely worked with Indian political outfits to discourage using the social media platform as a broadcasting tool. It has also introduced many features to the app to restrict content sharing as the polls are just a few months away.

The instant-message sharing app also has added countless features like restricted content forwarding, Dismiss as Admin and had undertaken several campaigns to tackle misinformation.

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