Election Commission asks Facebook to block political ads 2 days before polls

by Elton Gomes

The Election Commission (EC) of India has urged Facebook to consider blocking all political advertisements two days prior to any elections in the country. Facebook has not yet responded to the request, but is considering providing a button that will flag any violation of election laws.

In a meeting with the committee constituted by the EC to assess provisions of Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, a representative from Facebook agreed to examine whether a window or a button can be developed to flag complaints about any type of violation.

In addition, the representative agreed to examine whether the number of Facebook reviewers needs to be increased, if the need arises.

Facebook’s representative further said that complaints can be lodged against content on Facebook. The complaints will be reviewed as per global community standards. The representative said, ”If contents are found to be violating the community standards, they will be taken off,” as reported by PTI.

The representative said that strict action will be taken if the EC or its machinery complain about the violation of election laws. ”In such cases, action will be with regard to violation of the law and not merely based on the global community standards. There is a policy of taking special care during elections,” he said, as per the PTI report. In instances of proven violations, Facebook removes the content and informs the relevant user.

A source privy to the matter claimed that although Facebook has not released any specific comment on the EC’s request, the social media company is examining it.

Facebook has been making increasing attempts to curb malicious content on its website. Among many of these attempts was the social media company’s assistance during the Karnataka polls held in May.

Facebook’s assistance in fact-checking news for the Karnataka polls

Facebook partnered with BOOM, an independent digital journalism website, and announced a fact-checking program a month before Karnataka could go to polls.  ”Starting today, BOOM, certified through the International Fact-Checking Network, non-partisan international fact checking network at Poynter, will be able to review English language news stories flagged on Facebook, check facts, and rate their accuracy,” Facebook said in a blog post, as per a report in the Economic Times.

BOOM’s managing editor Jency Jacob spoke to the News Minute and said that when a particular link is found to contain false information, Facebook would restrict the reach of that link on its platform.

After the data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced a Congressional committee in the US and expressed confidence that his firm was doing everything to maintain caution. ”2018 is an important year for the whole world. Several countries like India, Pakistan will have elections. We’ll do everything possible to ensure these elections are safe,” Zuckerberg said, as per a report in the Times of India.

Facebook has come under immense criticism, particularly after reports alleged that the firm was seemingly involved in the Rohingya genocide and in inciting violence in Sri Lanka. Other reports claim that the proliferation of fake news on Facebook is the reason why Donald Trump got elected as president. In light of such accusations, Facebook has taken steps to protect content on their platform.

Facebook is taking measures to keep ads in check

Prior to the midterm elections in the US, both Facebook and Twitter announced plans to clarify what ads are running on their websites and who has purchased them. In addition to expanding its View Ads program, Facebook said that it is planning to add an information and ads section on each Page – this will allows users to see when the page was created and view recent changes in its name. Apart form this, in 2017, Zuckerberg said he cared deeply for the “democratic process” and announced nine steps to restrict government interference in elections.

It can be said that Facebook has taken comprehensive steps in curbing unwanted content on its site through changes in its ads offering. However, the company’s revised ad policies have also received criticism. Facebook will have to come down hard on trolls and users posting unwanted content if it wants to help ensure fair elections around the world.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius