The Government data suggests that a total of 154 instances of Fake News/Misinformation were reported by the ECI to social media platforms during the Lok Sabha elections. We take a look at these numbers and if these represent the entire gamut of misinformation.
In response to a question in Lok Sabha, on 24July 2019, about the list of complaints against fake/false news on social media during the 17th Lok Sabha General Elections, the Minister of Law and Justice responded by providing a list of complaints that were received by the Election Commission of India (ECI). He also went onto list the action taken in terms of reporting them to and directing the respective Social Media platforms to remove the content spreading this fake/misinformation.
The answer further stated that a majority of the complaints received were from social media Nodal officers appointed at Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) at Office of the Chief Electoral Officer at the state level. The details of the cases were enlisted in Annexure I along with answer. As per the data presented, a total of 46 cases were reported to Facebook, 97 cases to Twitter and 11 cases were reported to YouTube. But these numbers are much lower than the quantum of fake news (misinformation) related to the electoral process, witnessed during the Lok Sabha elections.
Voluntary Code of Ethics signed by the Social Media platforms
In the run up to the Lok Sabha general elections, the social media platforms agreed to a ‘Voluntary Code of Ethics’ with a commitment to deploy appropriate policies and processes to ensure the integrity & transparency of electoral process. Among other things, the platforms agreed to setting up of high priority dedicated reporting mechanism for the ECI and acting upon all valid legal requests for removal of content etc. expeditiously.
Misinformation/fake news about the EVMs one of the main reasons for complaints
A major portion of the complaints that ECI has reported to the social media platforms are in relation to EVMs. There were 84 cases reported to Twitter in regard to the list of tweets compiled by the Social Media team of ECI, stating that the tweets spread misinformation about EVMs (the specific information was not divulged in the Annexure). There were 22 complaints reported to Facebook, in regard to posts stating that 20 Lakh EVMs went missing. YouTube also received 9 complaints with the same reason of missing EVMs. There were 9 complaints to twitter and 11 to Facebook in regarding to posts/tweets which state that the EVMs are being transported without security. Apart from the cases related EVMs, another complaint highlighted by ECI was regarding the misinformation being reported about inedible ink.
Misinformation about Electoral processes not included in the complaints reported by ECI
Factly has fact-checked and debunked multiple false claims about the electoral process, rules and other related guidelines during the elections. However, the complaints reported by ECI to the various social media platforms do not include the complete gamut of fake stories and misinformation spread during the general elections. Few of these fake stories were about rules and guidelines regarding the electoral process, which ECI should have ideally taken cognizance of.
Here is a look at some such stories and misinformation which was shared widely on the social media platforms in relation to the elections. None of these claims were reported to the social media platforms by the ECI.
Challenge vote and Tender vote
One claim which went viral was regarding Challenge Vote and Tender Vote. The post claimed that, in case a voter does not find his name in the electoral roll after reaching the election booth, he/she can ask for a Challenge Vote. Further, in case the vote is being already cast by someone else, then the voter can ask for a “Tender” vote. There is also a mention of section 49A, in regard to this rule.
However, this information was identified to be false. The aforementioned section relates to the design of EVM and not regarding the casting of vote in case of the name not being in the voter list. Challenged Vote on the other hand is exercised by the polling agents to challenge the identity of an elector, of which the presiding officer can take cognizance and conduct and enquiry. There is a provision for Tender vote, where the candidate can cast a vote if the vote has already been casted. However, the information in the post about repolling in case of 14 % tender vote is False.
This claim went viral on WhatsApp and other social media platforms and was shared by lakhs of people. In fact, several people were reported to have picked up a fight with election officials about the non-existent challenge vote.
Online voting option for NRIs
Another piece of misinformation which was widely circulated was regarding a purported circular from ECI, which states that NRIs who hold an Indian Passport can vote online. However ECI has not passed any such circular, and has confirmed the same as a disclaimer on their website as well as through the tweets on their official spokesperson.
Filling of Form 7 in case of name not being in Voter list
There was a viral post which stated that a voter can fill Form 7 and vote, in case the name is not found in the voter list. However, Form 7 deals with the deletion of voters and not inclusion. Further, the name being on the voter list is mandatory for voting.
Multiple stories about discrepancy in election results
Apart from the concerns raised about the EVMs and the misinformation regarding EVM hacking, security and transportation of EVMs during the elections and prior to counting, there were also claims which emerged highlighting discrepancies in the counting of votes and results that were declared.
Number of votes reported for BJP candidate as well as Congress candidates was repetitively same across multiple constituencies.
Another post did rounds after the election results stating that candidates of BJP and Congress received 2,11,820 and 1,40,295 votes respectively across various constituencies. However, this story is false, with the official figures not matching the numbers of the narrative.
Votes polled for Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad constituency were deleted.
One of the more popular news which was shared on social media was that 6 lakh votes which were polled for Rahul Gandhi went missing in Wayanad constituency. The post claimed that the 6 lakh votes were deleted.
However, the missing number of votes when added up to the final votes tally of Rahul Gandhi , would be higher than the total votes polled on election day . Hence the 6 lakh votes were not deleted. But the post does seem to arise from some technical error resulting in wrong display on ECI site.
Misinformation about election manifestos, claims by political leaders etc. form a major part of fake news during the elections.
The volume of fake news did see a huge surge during the election period and got widely shared on social media. These news include fake stores, misinformation, misrepresentation of facts etc. A portion of the stories which circulated were directed towards political leaders , while few stories contained misinformation about the electoral promises and the manifestos of the political parties.
Wrong visuals shown as demolition of Vidyasagar’s statue in Bengal, waiving of medical bills of those who die in hospital as per congress manifesto, Rahul and Mamatha dining with Pakistan’s PM ( there was a similar false story, but involving Narendra Modi), endorsement of Modi by Australia’s PM etc. are few of the many fake news that were shared during the recent lok sabha and state elections.
ECI reporting to Social media a good step but more instances to be covered
In a press conference held on 19 May 2019, the ECI reported some additional numbers. The ECI official provided the following statistics regarding take down of content by social media platforms under various categories.
|Platform||Share Chat||Google (YouTube)|
|Political Messages during Silence Period of 48 hours||482||8||1|
|Political Advertisements during silence period||73|
|Model Code of Conduct (MCC) violation||2||34||31||3||1|
|Crossing Limits of Decency||28|
Bulk of these posts were taken down for political messages during the silence period, MCC violations and exit polls. About 145 of them were related to voter misinformation.
The initiative taken by ECI to report fake news being shared across various social media and report the same to the respective social media platforms is a step in the right direction. However, the instances reported are not complete, with many of the fake news either being not considered by ECI or reported to the respective Social Media platforms. The engagement will only be fruitful when all kinds of messages are considered and reported.
We have reached out to the ECI to find out more about the rationale and criteria behind recognizing and reporting instances of fake news. The story will be updated when we receive a response.