Image Courtesy: thewire.in
An analytical study by the Reporter’s Collective flags serious issues regarding overseas and Indian social media platforms influencing India’s election process. Former secretary to the government of India, EAS Sharma, has, in an open letter, flagged these detailed concerns.
The entire letter may be read here:
Shri Rajiv Kumar
Chief Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)
Shri A C Pandey
Shri Arun Goel
Dear S/Shri Rajiv Kumar/ Pandey/ Goel,
I have addressed you a letter on 7-1-2022 in connection with the proposed introduction of remote EVMs for enfranchising migrant voters and, in that connection, I had raised concerns about the role of the ECI, its effectiveness and credibility, as a Constitutional authority responsible for conducting elections in a free and a fair manner. I hope that the Commission has appreciated the seriousness of the issues I had raised and would satisfactorily respond to those issues in the public domain.
In continuation, I wish to raise yet another serious concern about the willingness and ability of the ECI to prevent both domestic and overseas social media platforms from interfering in India’s elections.
In this connection, I invite your attention to an analytical study made in March, 2022 by Reporters Collective, an investigative journalist group (https://www.reporters-
The study, based on a fairly comprehensive analysis, sums up the extent of Facebook’s interference in the electoral processes in India as follows:
“The Collective’s year-long investigation found that an ecosystem of proxy advertisers is flourishing on Facebook, bypassing election laws, breaking Facebook’s own rules and undercutting the political level-playing field. Surrogate advertisements worth more than 58 million rupees, most of which promoted BJP, denigrated opposition and seeded false narratives, got a whopping 1.3 billion views for a period of 22 months, almost equal to the advertisements officially placed by BJP. They helped double BJP’s visibility without the party having to take responsibility for the content or the expenditure related to their advertisements”
If what the above cited study has thus revealed is true, it is a matter of serious concern for the political parties of all hues in India, the Parliament and the public at large, as it implies, in no unclear terms, that a foreign social media platform, joining hands with a domestic private corporate agency, had blatantly interfered with the electoral processes in India, disturbing the level-playing ground in elections in favour of the party in power, in violation of the letter and the spirit of the laws and the regulations on elections and the sanctity and the integrity of the election system.
Such an interference in the electoral system by a foreign agency and a domestic corporate entity amounts to an indirect, undisclosed expenditure on electioneering in favour of one political party, in violation of the requirement of transparency, mandated by Article 19 of the Constitution. More important than this is the disturbing and the far reaching implication of this for India’s electoral system, which has apparently become highly vulnerable to foreign interference, against the national interest.
There are seven important questions that arise from this.
As a concerned citizen, I feel intensely distressed that the ECI should remain a passive (or active?) spectator to foreign agencies openly interfering in the country’s elections and tilting the level-playing ground among the political parties, whichever way they wish to.
In the USA, where many of these social media agencies are located, when questions arose about their impact on national security, the US Senate committee on national security summoned the agencies’ senior representatives to appear before them and testify on their role (https://www.businessworld.in/
If the Commission fails to respond to this letter, without making an appropriate disclosure in the public domain on answers to the above seven concerns, it will lead to an adverse inference being drawn on the Commission’s role and effectiveness in conducting elections in a free and a fair manner.
May I remind you once again that the public trust reposed in the Commission’s role and effectiveness would crucially depend on how it responds to these concerns?
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Govt of India