In a first, the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) of Nanded district has issued notices to the administrators of 12 private WhatsApp groups for violating the model code of conduct by campaigning for candidate – even they though they weren’t the ones who posted the messages in question. The implications of this are huge. If you’re in a private WhatsApp group with some friends and – while the model code of conduct is in force – implore them to vote or not vote for a particular candidate, the administrator of the group could be in trouble if one of the members screenshots your message and sends it to the EC’s cVigil app. The same applies to Facebook and Twitter as well. Almost two years since the Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked the US presidential election, social media has become a battleground – and a hotbed for model code violations – in Indian elections too.
Rajendra Chavan, head of the Nanded MCMC, said, “One has to take prior permission from the EC before canvassing in any medium, whether it is print or electronic. If anyone indulges in campaigning without prior permission it amounts to a violation of the model code of conduct.” He added, “It doesn’t matter whether the message is for or against any candidate or party; if it has the potential to influence voters and has been send without prior permission from the EC, it amounts to a violation of the code of conduct.” Since the model code came into force in Maharashtra, the EC has received more than 1,200 complaints on the cVigil app.
The notices sent by the Nanded MCMC simply ask the administrators of the 12 group to stop all election campaigning in their groups and visit the office of MCMC to explain their stand within seven days. A senior EC official said the violators would not be prosecuted but would be given a stern warning. But if the violations continue, stricter action could be taken. However, if it is found that a particular candidate was aware about such campaigning on social media on his behalf, he or she could be disqualified from contesting elections for four years, he added.
In Mumbai city district, collector Shivaji Jondhale said that they are monitoring Facebook pages for such violations. Raju Patodkar, spokesperson for the Mumbai City Collectorate, said that Varsha Gaikwad, a Congress candidate from Dharavi, Sandeep Deshpande, an MNS candidate from Mahim, Sada Sarvankar, a Sena candidate from Mahim, and Yamini Jadhav, a Sena candidate from Byculla, had set up sponsored Facebook pages without permission and were issued notices.
In Nanded, collector A Dongre said that similar notices have been sent to four administrators of WhatsApp groups for using social media without permission. Additional chief electoral officer Dilip Shinde said, “Permission is required from the competent certifying committee for political advertisements. Those who don’t take permission will get notices.”
Source: Economic Times