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Hashtags should be treated as political ads, says panel | India News

NEW DELHI: ‘Hashtag’ trends on Twitter, a place for ‘highly polarized political narratives’, may be treated as political ads during the election process and subject to the regulations of the Media Monitoring and Certification Committee (MCMC) of the Electoral Commission, a has recommended the expert committee created by the voting panel last year.
The panel, created under former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Harish Kumar to review survey spending limits and spending monitoring mechanisms, in its interim report presented to the EC on January 24, has also called for the creation of a separate social media monitoring cell in the officials’ constituency (DEO) to track political ads on social media during elections and report them to the spending watcher.
It recommended that the DEO office be allowed to hire outside consultants or software development companies to develop and implement appropriate social media monitoring solutions and build a dashboard to track the progress of actions taken in discovering social media spending.
According to sources, the EC has accepted the recommendations. According to the expert committee, three key platforms are used for political campaigns: Google (including Google and YouTube ads), Facebook (including Facebook and Instagram), and Twitter. Although Twitter had explicitly banned political advertising in November 2019, the panel said there was a fine line between political advertising and permitted topics.
Noting that Twitter is a place for “highly polarized narratives,” the panel said this makes it an important forum for campaigning. He said that Twitter, with around 3.4 crore of users in India, was a useful target for monitoring spending. Trending hashtags on Twitter are often targeted by opposition political groups to show their control over the narrative.
Explaining that trending a hashtag indicated “enormous” coordination between party workers and a candidate’s supporters, the panel said this was not possible without a complex social network or “illegal” hiring of bot accounts. The panel suggested that a Twitter hashtag or trend be treated as a political ad and may be covered by MCMC regulations. He suggested using open source tools like botometers to verify a Twitter account that supports the campaign’s hashtag. This would help the spending monitoring team uncover the use of clandestine services to campaign under the guise of hashtags on Twitter.

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