NEW DELHI: The voluntary code of ethics adopted by social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, ShareChat and Google ahead of elections may not do much to curb the menace of fake news and misinformation, social media analysts, fact checkers and analytics companies said.
The code of ethics is also unlikely to tame fake news on WhatsApp, considering the absence of traceability on the platform, they said.
Companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, WhatsApp and ShareChat agreed on Wednesday to adhere to a code of ethics ahead of the general elections.
Among other things, the code includes taking down objectionable posts within three hours during the 48-hour silent period ahead of elections, and bringing transparency in political advertising.
“It takes about 60 minutes for a negative post to enter the ‘viral’ category driven by rapid sharing and comments from followers. For very disturbing events and graphic content such as the recent shootout at a mosque in New Zealand, it only took about 12-15 minutes before a large community of people started watching the live stream. Commercial news outlets often latch on to breaking news within the hour. Informal sharing of news via non-traceable channels such as messaging apps is even faster,” said Sandeep Pandey, president of product and strategy at media, content and tech firm Wavemaker India, a GroupM agency.
“A 180-minute window is an eternity in this age and any objectionable content posted to a social media platform would have been seen, shared and commented upon thousands of times and the damage would have been done by the time it is taken down,” he added.
Jency Jacob, managing editor of BOOM, a website which works in partnership with Facebook to fact check stories and tags specific posts spreading misinformation on the platform, said it is very unclear what the modalities were going to be to decide whether a news is objectionable or not.
“A lot of the stuff that most of these political pages put out is not always in black and white. There is always a nuance to it. Some could be partly true or partly false. There are various gradations of these. So, I’m not sure when the Election Commission calls up the platforms and asks them to take down objectionable content, whether the platforms are going to take it at face value and do it or will they push back and say we don’t know if it is completely false. So many things are unclear,” he added.
In a response to ET’s queries on how it plans to adhere to the deadline, Facebook shared the code of ethics announcement, its ad library and ad archive report and previous announcements increasing ad transparency. The company said it is removing millions of fake accounts daily to limit the spread of misinformation.
Twitter said it was a signatory to the voluntary code of ethics for general elections and would accordingly comply with the requirements. Google said it was investing heavily to surface credible information sources on its platforms, and that it was committed to enforcing the statutory silence period, as well as to expeditiously process content reported by the Election Commission of India.
“As soon as the ECI asks us to take down content that is unlawful we will work on removing it expeditiously and hope to respond to those requests in much less than three hours,” said Berges Y Malu, head of public policy at ShareChat. WhatsApp did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Some feel the code of ethics has come too late.
“This has not been deployed in the past and its implementation straightaway in the elections of the biggest democracy of the world may be difficult. The three-hour timeline also seems difficult to maintain,” said Palash Goorha, business head of social media analytics firm Konnect Insights.
Concurred Alt News founder Pratik Sinha. “Talking about social media guidelines a few days before the elections doesn’t work. You need to draw a policy two years in advance and figure out and work on it. There were so many state elections. I do not think this will be effective,” he said. “Also, how do they define objectionable content. That has not been elaborated upon. At the level of the Election Commission, it has to be very specific. That makes it tricky for social media platforms to gauge what is objectionable without any guidelines. It is not limited to one account,” Sinha added.
“WhatsApp is the biggest propagator and WhatsApp can’t take down anything. There are so many unofficial pages. Unofficial accounts can continue to do their propaganda,” he said.
Kapil Gupta, CEO of OMLogic Consulting, which has worked on campaigns for the Congress, BJP, Lok Dal and the Akali Dal in the past, said more effort was needed to draft the code of ethics.