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Social Media Platforms Present Voluntary Code of Ethics

Topics Covered:

  1. Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.


Social Media Platforms Present Voluntary Code of Ethics


What to study?

  • For Prelims: Highlights of Voluntary Code of Ethics.
  • For Mains: Why is the spread of fake news on rise these days, how to contain it, legislative measures necessary, challenges and need for multi- stakeholder approach, how it affects voting behaviour?


Context: Social media platforms and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) have presented a ‘Voluntary Code of Ethics for the General Election 2019 to the Election Commission of India.

Participants including BIGO, ByteDance, Facebook, Google, Sharechat and Twitter have agreed to take action on the content reported by the nodal officer, expeditiously, in accordance with the law.


Key highlights:

  • The code aims to identify measures that the platforms can take to increase confidence in the electoral process to safeguard against misuse that vitiates the free and fair character.
  • The Social media platforms will deploy appropriate policies and processes to facilitate access to information on electoral matters where appropriate and keeping in mind the principle of freedom of expression.
  • The platforms have voluntarily undertaken to establish a high-priority communication channel with the nodal officers designated by the ECI.
  • The Election commission together with platforms has developed a notification mechanism by which the electoral body can notify them of potential violations under Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act and on other matters.
  • As per the code, the platforms will acknowledge these notifications within three hours of receipt and will act upon expeditiously based on the nature of the reported violation.
  • Platforms will ensure that political advertisements by parties or their candidates are pre-certified.


Need of the hour:

Fake news affects voting behaviour in a big way and right now, the only mechanism is Section 126 and EC instructions on paid news. We have to bring in a robust mechanism for conduct on social media platforms.


What is fake news?

Fake news is a type of yellow journalism that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via the traditional print, broadcasting news media, or via Internet-based social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention.


The main driving force behind fake news remains:

  • Getting easy viewership through sensational news-e.g. dubbing foreign prisoners as spies or terrorists without any proof
  • Directed towards a particular organization or person with an intention to either glorify it or to bring a news channel was established to defend the accused in Jessica Lal murder case.


Nature of fake news:

Social media in campaign- used to promote electoral programme and encourage anti-liberal sentiments as seen in Trump campaign. They offer a quick way to convey one-sided information or opinion, without the option or capability to verify the authenticity of this information or to present the opposite opinion for the sake of balance.

Fake news creating Bubble phenomenon- users with matching political views exchange one-sided information and opinions that suit their own convictions, reinforcing them even further, even if those were based on false information.

Social media distancing people– It deprives people of human contact and the accompanying intimacy and exchange of opinions, which could lead to changing a wrong impression or correcting an inaccurate belief.

Evergreening of fake news websites – tens of thousands of “fake news” websites have emerged, offering false information to an audience that is used to traditional media doing the fact-checking for it and that believes anything that appears on a presentable webpage.

Igniting extremist sentiments – ‘fake news’ perputuates, previously locally found, extremist ideas and groups together dangerously minded people eg- Neo-nazis in Germany, Separatists in Kashmir.


Dangers of fake news:

Political: Swaying or polarising public opinion. Example Recent American election,UP elections where certain facts are quoted out of context/partially. Significant impact on the nature of polity.

Religious: Promoting religious ideologies. Glorifying one religion while despising others Ex. Right wing violence meted out by Gau rakshaks leads to religious polarisation and communal unrests.

Criminal: Sensationalising crimes by blowing them out of proportion. Misleads people rather than making them aware. Instils irrational fears.

Fake news has also been used to dupe gullible people financially. The reach of news has given chit fund schemes an altogether new arena as well as has introduced the concept of online fraud through spam mails.

It hampers spirit of common brotherhood and raises intolerance. Eg. 2012 mass exodus of North-Eastern people from Bangalore on false online threats.

Over the time it shapes the thinking of society at large. Portrayal of India as an unsafe destination for women by international media has created a false image of a nation.


What is needed?

  • Independent, trusted and effective press regulation.
  • Mainstream media must use social media tools intensively in order to defend the truth, present the correct information and balance opinions.
  • Curb media ownership. We need an open debate on the impact of media concentration on our democracy and wider culture. There should be clear limits on media ownership so that powerful proprietors with vested interests are not allowed to dominate the news agenda.
  • Define fake news legally. Heavy punitive measures for whosoever violates the said definition.
  • There should be grievance redressal mechanisms and arbitration spaces to resolve issues.
  • Digital media literacy among people to increase scrutiny and feedbacks of the content.

Technical solutions that assess the credibility of information circulating online are also needed.


Mains Questions: Legal tools are ill-suited to tackle the problem of fake news. Critically analyse.