Home Tech Nodal cyber regulator can tame social media misuse by political parties

Nodal cyber regulator can tame social media misuse by political parties

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As political parties continue to misuse social media platforms to spread propaganda, misinformation, and fake news in the absence of a central cyber regulatory body, industry experts have reiterated the need to appoint a nodal cyber regulator to deal with Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and others.

Several countries have appointed their own cyber regulators who separately deal with Big Tech when they fail to address the laws of the land, especially before big-ticket elections.

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“Propaganda, misinformation, and fake news have the potential to polarise public opinion. It is often seen that social media is used to promote violent extremism and hate speech against political parties, communities, and religions and, ultimately, to undermine democracies and reduce trust in the democratic processes,” Nitin Pandey, senior cyber consultant with UP Cyber Crime, Police Headquarters, told IANS.

Pandey explained that such anti-social elements, using bots of paid Twitter users, spread misinformation.

“With modern artificial intelligence (AI) tools, it has become very easy to morph, and create deep fake, altered voices, videos, and text. And as these messages are circulated in such large numbers many believe them as true,” he noted.

As India prepares for any big state poll, WhatsApp gets heavily misused by various political parties as well as individual candidates to woo millions of voters via the automated bulk messaging route.

According to experts, IT cells of various political parties prepare lakhs of WhatsApp groups and broadcast lists to reach smartphones of voters with targeted political messaging.

“WhatsApp is a big beneficiary of such unauthorised bulk messaging, even though the Election Commission has imposed stringent restrictions on conventional campaigns. Influencing and impacting elections in such an unauthorised manner is a crime under the Indian Penal Code and the Representation of People’s Act,” Supreme Court lawyer and cyberlaw expert Virag Gupta told IANS.

Pandey said It is very important to provide netizens with a solid education on media and information literacy as part of the curriculum.

“There are various fact-checking platforms available online. Before believing any hate or fake news, netizens should cross-verify the content before sharing it with others,” he told IANS.

Section 66A of the IT Act has been enacted to regulate the social media law in India and assumes importance as it controls and regulates all the legal issues related to social media law in the country.

The New Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics) Rules was announced in February 2021 to increase the accountability of the social media platforms (such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.) to prevent their misuse and abuse.

“Political parties and marketing companies have been using bots, automation scripts, algorithms and time intervals to bypass rules of the land,” according to Gupta.

Recently, the Madras High Court held that social media companies may also be treated as accused in criminal cases.

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“In this context, the Election Commission must take immediate action against candidates, parties, and social media platforms for such systemic and large-scale violations of its laws and rules,” said Gupta.

“Contempt proceedings can also be initiated against such social media platforms for violation of rules framed under the directions of the Supreme Court,” he added.

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