Social firms don’t want to deal with state-level officers
The internet firms also plan to direct their request through the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).
“They are concerned that too many people may have the power to censor content on their platforms, if the 36 nodal officials in states also direct them to take down content,” said one of the people cited above.
On April 3, the EC directed its state-level bodies to appoint nodal officers as part of its measures to crack a whip on fake news, hate speech and other problematic content that violate the election model code of conduct.
“All requests for (content) takedown should go through the centralised body in Delhi. These three nodal officers have been trained. It creates a filtering mechanism. It’s a complicated process with legal checks,” said a second person familiar with the development.
“With many officers, there will be confusion,” the person said.
The internet firms also plan to direct their request through the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). ET could not independently verify whether the industry body has sent the formal request to the EC, as yet.
The Election Commission did not reply to email queries from ET on the development.
Facebook and ShareChat declined comment. Emails to Google and Twitter did not elicit a response, till the time of going to press.
In March, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Twitter, ShareChat and ByteDance agreed to India’s first voluntary code on taking down ‘problematic content’ and bring ‘transparency in political advertising’.
To comply with the voluntary code, social media companies developed a notification mechanism through which EC’s three nodal officers in Delhi can inform relevant platforms of potential violations of Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. This section bars political parties from advertising, broadcasting speeches or rallies in the silent period.
The current disagreement highlights the challenge of balancing the need to ensure fair elections while closely monitoring takedown requests and guard free political speech. Almost a third of India’s 900 million voters are active on social media, making this one of the world’s biggest-ever attempts to monitor internet content.
Social media and internet companies are of the view that speedy implementation of EC orders requires a streamlined flow of information, which could be hampered if requests are received from untrained state-level nodal officers.