ECI mulls social media ban, 48 hours before polls

Mumbai: The Election Commission of India (ECI) informed the Bombay High Court on Wed-nesday that it was mulling a total blackout of all media platforms, especially social and electronic media, 48 hours before the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. This blackout will only affect political messages and advertisements put out by candidates, political parties or individuals. This means that there can be no political tweets or messages during this period.

The ECI’s submissions were made in response to a query by a bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Nitin Jamdar, regarding the strategy of the polling authority to regulate the rampant dissemination of paid political advertisements on various media platforms.“We are considering blacking out not just social but even electronic media. This will solve all issues,” submitted ECI counsel Pradeep Rajgopal.

The ECI counsel was interrupted by CJ Patil, to ask if the commission had issued any direction regarding the blackout. However, Rajgopal denied that any such direction had been issued. To this, CJ Patil said, “Then, why don’t you (ECI) issue such a direction. How long will all this go on?” The judges accordingly directed Rajgopal to make a statement regarding the blackout proposal, at the next date of hearing.

Rajgopal’s submissions were backed by advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, who appeared for the petitioners seeking prohibition of paid political content on social media 48 hours before the elections.“The fact that the Indian PM has more followers than the President of the United States (on Twitter) is sufficient for understanding the seriousness of the issue.

We are not against any politician or a political party but we think a blackout is must,” Chandrachud submitted.Chandrachud made these submissions in response to policies of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. While Facebook has framed a policy to allow only Indian nationals to post any political advertisement and said that it will only accept Indian currency, Twitter introduced a similar policy last month.

Twitter has decided to only regulate ads put up by political candidates.“Twitter has not put up the conditions, Facebook has. If one reads Twitter’s policy, it can be seen that only ads of political candidates/parties will be regulated. But it has no plans to regulate the ads on divisive issues like Ayodhya, cow slaughter or love jihad,” Chandrachud submitted.

“This means, Twitter will only regulate ads put up by Indian nationals, who are contesting elections. But one can sit in any corner of the world and can easily put up ads on issues like Ayodhya, cow slaughter and so on,” Chandrachud explained. During the hearing, Chandrachud further urged the bench to issue directions to Twitter and YouTube, to follow the policy of Facebook.

“They (Twitter and YouTube) must ensure that any ad, or written post on such divisive issue, is posted only by an Indian. We are not against foreigners commenting or saying anything on elections. They can do so but should not be allowed to put up ads,” Chandrachud said.

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