By S. Rubatheesan
Offensive election propaganda continue on Facebook despite appeals by NEC
Facebook political advertisements have caused serious concerns for the National Elections Commission.
“It is a challenging task to stop well targeted paid political ads,” NEC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya told the Sunday Times yesterday. “I don’t know how we can ensure all sorts of Facebook political campaigning activities are stopped after the ban on campaigning from midnight on Wednesday.”
Facebook representatives came to Sri Lanka months ago to coordinate with the NEC to deal with hate speech, misinformation and other potential online violations.
“Social media users have to obey election regulations and be responsible while adhering to self ethics. I’m not satisfied with action taken by the Facebook management as they had agreed with us earlier on removing questionable contents on Facebook,” Chairman Deshapriya said
He noted that some misleading campaign posters with his image asking to vote for a candidate are still on Facebook despite several complaints made directly through a dedicated channel between Election Commission and Facebook Inc.
Mr. Deshapriya acknowledged that on complaints reported on misinformation campaigns and hate speech content that would damage social harmony, Facebook had acted quickly on removing them, but action on other contents is relatively slow as Facebook’s community standards and NEC’s standards differ significantly.
Millions of rupees are spent by presidential candidates and political parties to carry out micro-targeted, well organised, systematic campaigns to attract votes from some six million Facebook users in the country.
Among them are nearly a million first time tech savvy voters who use several other social media and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber for personal communication and to be connected with the world.
Unlike in the United States, details are not available regarding money paid by political parties for running ads and electioneering through dedicated Facebook pages on behalf of candidates.
The NEC’s Social Media Monitoring Unit officials have been able to block or remove 116 identified content from Facebook after it took it up with the Facebook management directly but many more reported contents are yet to be removed by the platform.
“Think about empathy, all of us are equal and have equal rights. Don’t hurt anyone or harass others online with hate speech or posts that would instigate communal, racist sentiments,” Chairman Deshapriya urged some six million Sri Lankan Facebook users. He also emphasised the significance of November 16 election day as it was the United Nations International Day for Tolerance.
Meanwhile, election monitoring bodies are also engaged in monitoring social media. Two dedicated technical teams of the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) are looking at a realtime ‘dashboard’ which provides social media monitors with the most trending Facebook posts from a dataset of more than 11,000 Facebook pages and groups. The dataset consists of Sinhala and Tamil Facebook pages of political parties, pages run on behalf of presidential candidates, gossip pages, meme pages, and key influencers.
“An election is a democratic exercise. It is a team work where we need everyone’s support including social media users, bloggers, website admins and page admins. Please adhere to the silent rule from November 13 onwards. Please don’t put up public posts online canvassing for candidates openly or cause undue influence online by threatening or intimidating users. Also, please refrain from taking pictures or selfies with ballot papers at the polling stations and sharing them online,” Mr Deshapriya said.
Facebook and other social media giants are alleged to have influenced the 2016 presidential election in the United States and the Brexit referendum in Britain and elections in other countries also. Widespread precautions are being taken to prevent this cyberwar from distorting the polls and the will of the people.