Release of a non-partisan action plan on safeguarding elections and democracy against digital platforms and the misuse of the Social Media
New Delhi, April 5, 2019: The threat posed by digital platforms to the integrity of elections has assumed alarming proportions. In this context, a group of former civil servants, which has been engaging with the Election Commission of India over the conduct of free and fair elections, had offered concrete suggestions to rein in digital platforms. The group was assured careful consideration of its recommendations, but there has been little progress in the matter, except for the adoption of a virtually ineffectual Voluntary Code of Ethics mediated by the Internet & Mobile Association of India.
The Statement (enclosed) issued at this conference and the Call to Action are an outcome of a collective reflection and a long consultative process by concerned civil society groups, including Common Cause, Constitutional Conduct, Internet Freedom Foundation, Free Software Movement of India, Association for Democratic Reforms, and many former public servants as well as former Chief Election Commissioners, Dr N. Gopalaswami and Dr S. Y. Quraishi.
The statement which is being released to the media and all stakeholders including the ECI, civil society, citizens and political parties contains an urgent appeal to the Election Commission to monitor the online spending of political parties for election campaigns, and not just spending by candidates. It also asks the ECI to make it mandatory for political parties to disclose official Political Party/Individual handles on all major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter as well as lesser-known platforms such as WeChat, Sharechat, TikTok, etc.
An appeal has also been made to the political parties to evolve a consensus to enact legislation to cap their expenditure in the voting process. Since the parties are now preparing their manifestos, we urge them to include therein a firm commitment to work for such a cap in future elections.
The statement has been endorsed by an array of leading citizens, civil society members, academics, artists, and former constitutional office holders, besides over 50 former civil servants including retired Secretaries to Govt of India and retired CECs.