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Introducing some new features and guidelines to ensure fair play in Lok Sabha election 2019, the Election Commission of India (EC) has laid down some regulations for social media usage by political parties and their leaders when the electoral process is on.

The EC announced the schedule for 17th Lok Sabha elections yesterday (Sunday, March 10). Polling will be held in seven phases beginning April 11.

The ECI said the candidates will have to furnish the details of their social media accounts at the time of filing their nominations.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora said all political advertisements on social media will need pre-certification. The EC has asked Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to verify all the political advertisements coming from various political parties.

The CEC also announced that the model code of conduct would apply to content posted by the candidates and they would be required to provide details of their social media accounts to the panel. All political advertisements on social media will also require pre-certification, he added.

“The intermediaries, viz Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube, have committed in writing to ensure that any political published on their platforms will be certified from MCMC [Media Certification & Monitoring Committees],” Arora said.

He added that the social media platforms have assured the commission they would appoint grievance officers to take “necessary and prompt” action against any poll-related violation and check fake news and hate campaigns.

The CEC informed that IT giants have promised to take action against hate speech. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI) has informed the commission that it is formulating a code of ethics for polls, “which is a work in progress”, the CEC said.

In a decision taken earlier, EC had also asked political parties to “desist from displaying photographs of defence personnel”. This came after complaints against BJP posters showing a hoarding with images of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman along with photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as other leaders of the party.

All expenditure on campaigning advertisements on social media is to be included in the election expenditure account, said Arora.

Stringent monitoring of all events on election days will be done using information technology, he said.

He also mentioned the C-Vigil app which was launched last year by the EC. The app will help citizens to confidentially report any violation of the election code of conduct and any malpractices.

“By using the cVIGIL app, citizens can record on his Android mobile and report promptly to election authorities report any violation of Model Code  of  Conduct,  any  incident  of  intimidation  or  inducement  within minutes of having witnessed them and without having to go to the office of the returning officer,” the EC said.

All that one has to do is to simply click a  picture  or  to  take  a  video  and  briefly  describe  the  activity  before uploading it on the cVIGIL mobile application. If the complainant desires to remain  anonymous  he  has  the  option  to  do  so.  cVIGIL  provides time-stamped  evidentiary  proof  of  violation of Model Code of Conduct / Expenditure Violation.

The District Control Room allocates cVIGIL cases to the Flying Squads etc. through GIS-based  platform.  Flying  Squads  investigate  the  matter  and  the  Returning Officer takes the decision. The status of cVIGIL is shared with the cVIGIL complainant within 100 minutes.

The EC said it has also set up a Voter Helpline Mobile app to provide to all Citizens convenience of finding names in the electoral roll, submitting online forms, checking the status of the application, filing complaints and receiving the reply on their mobile  app.  All  forms,  results,  candidate  affidavit,  press  notes,  Voter awareness  and  important  instructions  are  available  through  the  mobile app. This popular app is available at Google Play Store.

Persons with Disabilities  (PwDs)  can  request  for  new  registration,  change  in  address, change in particulars and mark themselves as PwD through the use of the mobile  application.  By  simply  entering  their  contact  details,  the  Booth Level  Officer  is  assigned  to  provide  doorstep  facility.  PwDs  can  also request for a wheelchair during polling. The app is available at Google Play Store.

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