New Delhi:  While the controversies surrounding hate speech refuse to end particularly during electoral battles, the Election Commission has time and again said that it takes strong note of the issue and acts as per the rules.

Recently, the Election Commission told the Supreme Court that due to the lack of a specific law against hate speech and rumour mongering during polls, it has to resort to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Representation of People (RP) Act to ensure that members of political parties do not make statements which can create disharmony among sections of the society.

“In the absence of any specific law governing hate speech and rumour mongering during elections, the Election Commission of India employs various provisions of the IPC and the RP Act, 1951 to ensure that members of political parties or even other persons do not make statements to the effect of creating disharmony between different sections of society, ” the poll panel said in an affidavit .

On September 14, 2022, the Election Commission told the Supreme Court that it does not have the legal power to withdraw the recognition of a political party or disqualify its members, if a party or its members indulge in hate speech.

The Commission said it had introduced guidelines in the Code asking parties to desist from making communal statements. In case any complaints were made, the poll panel said it took strict note of it and issued show cause notices to the candidates or agents concerned.

“The Election Commission takes various measures against the defaulting candidate/person, based on his or her reply, such as issuing advisories cautioning them or prohibiting them from campaigning for a specified period of time or even initiation of a criminal complaint in the case of repeat offenders, ” the affidavit said.

Apart from this, the Election Commission in pursuance of a “Voluntary code of ethics”, has been directing several social media platforms to take down content (links, videos, posts, tweets) found objectionable as per various provisions of the MCC, RPA, IPC and other electoral laws during elections.

As a result of their vigorous persuasion, all the major social media platforms under the aegis of Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) came together and mutually agreed upon a “Voluntary Code of Ethics” for the General Elections 2019. The code has been in effect since the Lok Sabha election 2019 and for all Legislative Assembly elections held after that. The Code has been developed to ensure free, fair and ethical use of social media platforms and to maintain the integrity of the electoral process. Intermediary platforms have also committed to take their share of responsibility for voter education and awareness.

As per a recent Parliament reply, the total number of “Hate News” cases reported to social media platforms (since Lok Sabha Elections 2019) is 130. The data showed that a maximum 59 complaints regarding hate speech on social media platforms were received during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Thereafter, a total 34 such cases were reported to the Commission during the 2020 Delhi assembly polls. In 2021, a total 29 cases of hate speech on social media platforms were reported to the Commission during the Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry assembly polls. Similarly, during the 2022 assembly polls in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh a total of eight such cases were recorded.

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