This article has been written by Saloni Chitlangia, pursuing the Diploma in Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Laws from LawSikho. The article has been edited by Aatima Bhatia (Associate, LawSikho) and Ruchika Mohapatra (Associate, LawSikho).
Table of Contents
During the Indian parliament election in 2014, social media was a popular word. Politicians used social media as their tool to communicate with their intended audience; to call them either to vote or to protest. One of the prominent reasons for social media being used by political parties is because traditional mass media communication is highly regulated by the Election Commission of India. Politicians have also chosen social media in an attempt to reach voters inhabiting the new media society in a more efficient manner. The 2008 U.S. presidential election was the first election to fully grasp the power and reach of the SNS to impact voters. The U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign used Facebook in an exceptional way to reach out to young voters. It proved to be successful; allowing him to win the votes of nearly 70% of voters that were under 25 years old. During the anti-corruption movement in 2012, social activist Anna Hazare used social media to connect people in New Delhi.
Social media and elections
Social media has emerged as an essential tool of communication and has created new ways of political mobilisation and encouraging social media users to engage in political activities; such as following their political groups by tweeting, status update, expressing support through blogs and videos on YouTube.
The widespread use of social media platforms for self-expression, communication, and social participation has resulted in an abundance of voluntarily disclosed personal information online, which can be aggregated to gauge public opinion unobtrusively. As compared to traditional methods of public opinion measurement, social media allows time- and cost-effective data collection and analysis with less human effort. Scholars analysing social media data to gauge public opinion have supported the idea that the predictive validity of social media analysis does not necessarily rely on how representative the users are of the general population.
The indulgence of political parties in social media has seen a surge over the last decade. Over the years, Indian politics has also become more dependent on the usage of social media to connect with people experiencing the effect of fellow democracies. . In India, the social media platform analyses the closest proximity of the actual vote holding of the political parties. The data is collected from social media platforms to analyse the number of people in support and opposition and those who can be targeted
The prediction of results can be done through parameters involving volumetric and sentimental analysis. The volumetric analysis encompasses the volume of tweets, tags and hashtags associated with the leaders of political parties and their influenced users. The sentimental analysis includes comparison based and direct opinions. This was seen in the Delhi elections that took place in 2015 where the researchers got overall positive sentiment towards the political party AAP and their CM candidate. Although the analysis depicted a smaller number of differences in vote holding, it depicted a greater number of tweets for BJP, conveying that the dominant mood was in support of the party.
The youth of this generation is highly invested in politics and the ideas associated with it. Previously, there was no standard platform for individuals to voice their opinions and politicians had to take to the streets to gain popularity. However, now, social media has become a platform where people can freely express themselves. Politicians still use posters, cutouts, etc for their campaigns- but becoming digital and paying attention to their digital platforms has changed the picture. Platforms like Twitter are perfect for political organizations to broadcast information on a worldwide stream for either debates or discussions. With an estimated 53.1 million active users, (as per the census of 2015), India is the third-largest user of Twitter. The number of people using this platform is huge and it is believed to be a great way of influencing elections and campaigns.
Thus, Indian political parties are utilising the internet and social media to connect with youth for their agenda and political events because they now know how and where to find them. All the political parties and their candidates have their respective social media pages and teams to run their campaigns vehemently, and greater resources are being invested in digital campaigning. Observing the famous 2014 general elections of India, social media was the battleground for various political campaigns and there was a tremendous flow of varied political opinions. The election proved that there was a great potential to influence the country’s youth over social media through social media and political campaigns. A serious note was found in both the occasions: regional election as well as state election.
They used social media like never before. Conventional ways of sending messages, recording calls and public gathering became redundant. In 2014 the strategy inculcated by the parties was to first monitor the support through social media and then formulate better strategies to seek targeted votes from the people. This resulted in Narendra Modi gaining a following quickly. In India, the use of social media became more relevant and important following the Anna Hazare movement and the victory of Shri Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha Election.
Impact of negative campaigning or negative advertising on social media
The political parties and their followers had chosen social media sites for campaigning before elections because of its wider reach. In March, Facebook revealed that BJP had been leading the political ad spend on Facebook. According to the official data of Facebook, BJP and its affiliates accounted for over 50% of the total ad spend as of February while the opposition party, Congress, and its affiliates were at the third position after regional parties.
However, it is pertinent to note that mere tweets are not enough to count the votes and predict the results. The failure in the prediction of election results can be clearly understood through the US Presidential Elections in 2016, where Donald Trump surprised the world with his win over Hillary Clinton. All the popular vote forecasting tools had predicted Clinton’s chances of winning with a 70% to 99% range. Therefore, result forecasting could be an easy formula to find out the vote holding of a party and to formulate strategies to target more voters for political parties. However, it isn’t always the most reliable method.
Along with the positive benefits of social media, there are a lot of negative effects from social media campaigning and advertising. Sometimes news published on social media can be interpreted in the wrong way and thus incorrect interpretations of news will misguide the voters. While heavy campaigning takes place over social media platforms, there is also an increased chance of the spreading of fake news across these same platforms- such as Whatsapp, Facebook and others. This is often done to influence the voting choices of the citizens. A recent survey also found that there are a number of fake pages on social media.
It was reported that Facebook, upon intimation by the Government, had deactivated and removed over 1,000 pages, groups and accounts for violating Facebook’s security policies including fake pages. Individuals associated with an IT Cell of the Indian National Congress (INC), and an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch. Social media’s alarming influence over the general public came sharply to light after nearly 31 people were killed by lynch mobs in several states such as Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura, and West Bengal over a rumour of child kidnapping which was spread using WhatsApp. There are also a large number of ‘trolls’ and news by various pages to defame individual candidates or political parties. Thus, the issue of regulating social media is a matter that needs to be debated in many countries, as social media is a good servant which becomes bad when handled by a bad master.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under the Government of India has declared that social media needs to be regulated. Prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission had a made few guidelines to regulate social media and had made it mandatory for the candidates and political parties to declare the amount spent on digital campaigning and also to authenticate the pages belonging to the party and its candidates. The commission also made it necessary to certify the advertisements prior to publishing them on social media. However, these guidelines were only laid down to regulate the pages of political parties and candidates and not those of the public.
Prior to the recent elections, the Election Commission had said that the model code of conduct would apply even to social media and online campaigning on various platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok, Whatsapp etc. These guidelines were implemented after meeting with the Industry Body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). The EC also mentioned that any violations on social media would be processed under the provisions of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 and Section 126 of the Act would be applicable. It also made it mandatory for the candidates to mention their pages and their party pages in the nomination papers before the election.
There are many laws and provisions that regulate the social media troll pages, such as the Information Technology Act 2000 (Amendment 2015), Indian Penal Code,1860 etc. Section 66A of the IT Act had been the provision for online abuse or defamation, however, in 2015 the Hon’ble Supreme Court upholding the provisions of Article 19(1)(a) had struck down Section 66A of IT Act, 2000 in the landmark case Shreya Singhal and Ors v. Union of India. However, there are many provisions in the IPC for the offences relating to cybercrimes and abuse by the troll pages, which are: Section 295A (Intentionally insulting religion or belief), Section 153A (promoting enmity between people), Section 499 (Defamation), Section 505 (Statements conducing to public mischief), 506 (criminal intimidation), Section 124A (Sedition) etc.
In spite of having many legal provisions for regulating the various platforms in social media like troll pages, many people get away without facing the consequences due to low awareness about the legal provisions. More offences are being repeated by the political parties, candidates and party workers on social media platforms because of weak laws and more financial resources being circulated for digital campaigning. Hence, awareness needs to be created and stringent laws need to be drafted and implemented for the safety of citizens.
Election commission and social media companies : measures taken to make 2019 Elections safer
The Election Commission of India, ahead of elections had directed its state-level bodies to appoint nodal officers who would be responsible for keeping an eye on the spreading or circulation of fake news, hate speech and other unlawful content across social media companies. The Election Commission of India had directed its Chief Electoral Officers in states and union territories that any violation of the model code of conduct on social media platforms should be immediately reported to grievance officers of the concerned company and the election commission.
In order to keep social media secure during elections, the commission had also appointed three nodal officers. Their work was to examine the code violation cases instantly and write to the companies to take appropriate action after receiving approval from the director-general of media. In March, social media companies Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Google and Internet and Mobile Association of India had submitted the voluntary code of ethics for the general election 2019 to the chief election commissioner. The companies had agreed to create a high priority dedicated reporting mechanism for the ECI and also appointed dedicated teams during the elections for taking speedy action during violations. The code of ethics was aimed at preventing inappropriate or objectionable political advertisements.
The steps taken by social media companies to make elections safer are:
- Facebook launched an exclusive feature for India named ‘Candidate Connect’ which allows Lok Sabha candidates to record their election manifesto in the form of 20 second videos.
- Facebook planned to start an operations Centre in Delhi, which will work with its offices at Menlo Park, Dublin and Singapore to monitor election content.
- WhatsApp introduced a telephonic tip line for its users to report misleading content and fake news.
- Microblogging platform Twitter expanded its political ads policy and Ads Transparency Centre (ATC) in India.
As per the latest survey by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, it was known that there are about 20 crore internet users in India and there are more than 18 crores mobile/cell phone internet users in India, most of them being within the age group of 18-35 years. There are around 10 crore voters voting for the first time who are within the age of 18-23 years. Thus, social media plays a very crucial role in opinion formation among people during elections. The use of social media for political activities influences peoples’ political efficacy, political participation and political knowledge. The political parties use these social media pages to connect with the people and update them about their welfare activities, and also to compete with their rival parties. Social media is also helping in bringing out a new way through which people can share information, search and increase their awareness. It is hence creating more awareness about the election, development of the nation and various other issues among people in both urban as well as rural areas. Thus, having a very meaningful as well as a positive impact as it is increasing the voting percentage during elections.
Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skills.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals, and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: