BENGALURU: Activists have demanded close monitoring of social media by political parties prior to elections. They believe this will have a huge bearing on the polls.

Activists have pointed to the spread of fake news via digital platforms as well as placement of advertisements as aspects that need to be monitored.

Chief election commissioner Sunil Arora had on Sunday said that digital platforms will have to adhere to the model code of conduct. He said that major platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, WhatsApp and ShareChat had agreed to carry only pre-certified political ads and share the cost of these ads with the commission. However, activists believe the commission needs to do more.

An event to discuss these concerns, conducted by NGO Free Software Movement Karnataka (FSMK), was held in Bengaluru on Sunday. FSMK president Prabhir Purkayastha told ET that one of the main concerns was regarding advertisements on digital platforms. “There is a need to control expenditure of political parties on both digital and other platforms. While there are caps on expenditure by individual candidates, there is no cap on parties. It’s very clear the ruling party has the ability to mobilise much more funds than others which skews the election in their favour,” he said.

According to Free Software Movement of India, Google and Facebook as well as independent researchers have analysed the impact of these platforms on changing electoral processes and have concluded that there could be a 10-20% swing in results through manipulation of electoral feeds. “And 5% could be the difference between a complete sweep and a complete rout,” Purkayastha said.

Anil Verma, head of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), said monitoring social media was important to prevent spread of fake news and hate speech. He called for expenditure by political parties to be put out in the public domain.

Joint chief electoral officer for Karnataka Surya Sen said the commission had received a lot of requests from multiple organisations to place a cap on expenditure by political parties. He said it was a policy decision that the commission has to take. Regarding information on expenditure by parties, he said the commission will put it on public domain after calculating the amount spent.

This time, the commission has joined hands with digital platforms themselves to monitor activity, Sen said. “Facebook and Twitter are part of our media monitoring team and they will also appoint nodal officers from their side to control fake news, paid media ads, etc. We are keeping track of activities on most digital platforms, but WhatsApp cannot be monitored.”

With focus on more widely used platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, other platforms like TikTok are escaping scrutiny, activists said. There have been reports of many political agenda-driven videos uploaded on TikTok, they said.

There is a need to control expenditure of political parties on both digital and other platforms, say activists.

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