HC seeks to regulate online political ads during 48-hour blackout period

Mumbai,Bombay high court,Election Commission of India

What can be done to stop the posting of political advertisements on social media in the 48 hours leading to voting, the Bombay high court (HC) asked the Centre and Election Commission of India (ECI) on Monday.

The 48 hours before voting is a blackout period, where campaigners are not to reach out to voters. The court, hearing a public interest litigation (PIL), observed how no one had any control over such posts on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube during that time. The division bench of chief justice Naresh Patil and justice NM Jamdar said a mechanism was needed, and gave the Centre and ECI until Friday to respond. “There is absolutely no regulation over the postings on these social networking sites…anybody can post anything there,” said the bench.

The PIL was filed by advocate Sagar Suryawanshi, seeking directions to the ECI to restrain social media from carrying political advertisements, under Section 126 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951. Suryawanshi’s counsel, Abhinav Chandrachud, pointed out that Section 126 prohibited public meetings and processions related to the election, but social media posts related to campaigning reached thousands of people in seconds and had the potential to influence voters.

Chandrachud told the bench social networking sites such as Facebook had advertising policies in the UK and the USA — where all advertisements go through a verification process, and pointed out the absence of any such policy in India. The petitioner said he was not asking for a ban on the use of social media during the 48 hours, but only the prohibition of political advertisements in that period.