10 Point Plan for Social Media Corporations during India’s Elections

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On April 10, a week before India’s general elections kick off, 38 Indian diaspora groups and allies have raised the alarm bells about a lack of action by social media corporations in protecting India’s elections. In a joint letter, the diaspora groups are calling on social media corporations with user markets in India to urgently enforce an election silence period and ban any political advertisements in the 48 hours before the elections, in accordance with Indian law. The letter is accompanied by a list of ten demands, which provide a tangible roadmap for social media corporations to stop facilitating human rights abuses via their platforms. 

“This year’s elections in India are a formidable challenge to the very foundations of democracy, and social media corporations must treat them as such. Social media corporations must now demonstrate that they will radically depart from business as usual – in which profits are more important than people.” – Dr Ritumbra Manuvie, Executive Director of Foundation The London Story.

“We, members of the Indian diaspora, are sounding the alarm bells on how Meta is complicit in the spread of hate, violence, and extremism. Social media corporations like Meta have shown blatant disregard for our domestic law, and therefore for diaspora communities in the UK, as well as for human life in India. That is why we are calling on these companies to urgently do what is necessary under India’s domestic laws: Enforce an election silence period.” – Rajiv Sinha, Hindus for Human Rights UK. 

Under India’s Representation of the People Act, the diaspora groups note, all election-related activities are prohibited during a silence period starting 48 hours before the election phase. Therefore, the diaspora groups sounded the alarm bells: If social media corporations do not enforce an election silence period, they are not only violating Indian domestic law, but also profiting from hateful, disinformative, or partisan content. Additionally, the diaspora groups call on social media corporations to tailor their measures to the complex socio-political context in India, for instance by allowing fact-checking of advertising and ensuring that fact-checked information is correctly labelled in all languages. 

The full list of diaspora demands towards social media corporations are:  

  1. Adopt an election silence period; 
  2. Ensure transparency by vetting who they are receiving money from; 
  3. Ban shadow advertisers; 
  4. Allow fact-checking of ads; 
  5. Ensure fact-checked information is correctly labelled in all languages; 
  6. Ensure that dehumanizing, caricaturing, demonizing of minorities is checked properly; 
  7. Proactively act to restrict re-spawning pages; 
  8. Remove the political exemption; 
  9. Allocate resources proportionately to the user market; 
  10. Shut down the recommender system and make algorithms open for audits. 

From 19 April to 1 June 2024, over 945 million people go to the polls in India for general elections. With a population of 1.4 billion, thousands of dialects, over 120 official languages, six major religions, and more than 1 million polling stations, the election has been named the biggest democratic exercise in history. 

Scathing whistle-blower testimonies and extensive reports have brought attention to social media corporations such as Meta, Alphabet, X and others for failing to prevent the spread of illegal content and incitement to violence on their platforms. Yet, social media corporations have shown blatant failure to act on such content, even when they are alerted to it, and have failed to invest in adequate resources for the Indian user market. For example, Meta provides content moderation for only 20 languages — while there are over 121 languages in the country. Ahead of the Indian elections, urgent investment and changes in policy and platform are needed.