We can’t stop individuals from using social media 48 hours before polls, ECI tells Bombay HC


The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Friday informed the Bombay high court that the prohibition on campaigning during the 48 hours prior to voting in the general elections equally applied to political advertisements on social media. The ECI counsel, Pradeep Rajagopal, however, said individuals cannot be prohibited from using social media and posting their opinions online during this period.

Rajagopal said Section 126 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 prohibited any form of electioneering during the 48 hours before polling and the prohibition is applicable to electronic media, including social media.

He informed the division bench of chief justice Naresh Patil and justice Nitin Jamdar that there will be a mechanism in place to ensure that registered political parties or contesting candidates will not display their advertisements on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. But, individuals cannot be restrained from either using social media or posting their individual opinions online during this blackout period. “One just cannot stop individuals,” he said.

Rajagopal was responding to public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Sagar Suryawanshi seeking directions from the ECI to restrain social media from carrying any political advertisements during the 48 hours prior to voting in general elections, as contemplated under Section 126 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951.

His counsel, advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, had earlier pointed out that Section 126 prohibited any public meetings and processions in connection with the election or display for the public any election matter during the 48 hours.

Chandrachud had pointed out that Facebook has advertising policies for United Kingdom and the United States, where all their advertisements are subjected to verification before being published.

Before the advertisement is published, they verify the identity of the publisher, but there is no such policy, as regards to the rest of the world, including India, Chandrachud added and expressed apprehension that anybody can now post any controversial matter on these social networking sites from, say Pakistan or China, and create political ripples in India. He, therefore, insisted that there has to be some self-regulatory mechanism in India too.

The court has now directed the ECI to file an affidavit elaborating the steps it proposed to take to prohibit political advertisements on social media during the 48 hours, and posted the PIL for further hearing on Monday.