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Panel plan to monitor social media campaign

The upcoming general elections will be the first to witness monitoring of social media campaign by the Election Commission. Bengalís assistant chief electoral officer Amitjyoti Bhattacharya said on Tuesday the plan is to make candidates disclose details of their social media presence in their affidavits and keep an eye on the webpages.

Metro takes a closer look at the commissionís plan.

How will the commission monitor social media campaign?

The poll panel had in November tied up with Facebook, Yahoo, Google, ebay and Rediff. It claims the companies will help it monitor content posted by leaders and parties, including advertisement. The commission will try to bring more companies, Twitter for example, on board. If a major online platform refuses to cooperate, the panel will scan the content posted on it only after a specific complaint.

The commission said the five companies it had tied up with have agreed to get political advertisements cleared by it before posting them.

According to the commission, the companies have agreed to scan every post and report violations to the panel. They have been assured that at no point would there be an attempt to censor social media.

Will the panel monitor only the official Facebook page of a candidate/party? What about the content uploaded by aides and supporters?

The idea is to cover as much ground as possible. The panel is consulting the communication and IT ministry on ways to deal with content posted by persons and groups other than candidates and parties. For the purpose of monitoring, the commission has classified social media under five heads ó collaborative projects such as Wikipedia; blogs and micro-blogs such as Twitter; content communities such as Google-owned YouTube; social networking sites such as Facebook; and games and apps.

Is it the first election where there will be vigil on social media?

The model was attempted in some Assembly elections but this is the first time it will be implemented across the country. Till the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the panel did not directly monitor the social media. The commission would only act on specific complaints of code violation on social media.

Does it mean social media has become an important medium of campaign?

S.L. Rao, Bangalore-based sociologist and former director-general of the National Council for Applied Economic Research, who is also a columnist with The Telegraph, said social media campaign would certainly have an impact on the urban middle class, who will go a long way in influencing voting patterns across the country. Rao thinks all parties will have to factor in Facebook, Twitter and such sites in their outreach programmes in future elections.

A 2013 study by the NGO Internet and Mobile Association of India revealed that 160 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats in the country are likely to be highly influenced by social media campaign. Among the 160 are Calcutta North, Calcutta South, Howrah and Balurghat. Sixty-seven others ó including Burdwan, Durgapur-Asansol and Purulia ó are believed to be moderately influenced.

What has social media campaign been like so far?

Bengalís political leadership had been largely blind to social media till the 2011 Assembly polls. Last month, Mamata Banerjee had said: ďWe donít have thousands of crores to spend on advertising like the BJP or the Congress. Thatís why I am on Facebook. Itís free and extremely effective.Ē

Soon after Mamataís Facebook debut in June 2012, Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya posted his partyís criticism of Trinamul on the networking site. Prominent Left faces on Facebook include Nirupam Sen, Manab Mukherjee, Ritabrata Banerjee, Nilotpal Basu, Samik Lahiri and Rabin Deb.