Instagram is not mentioned separately in the voluntary ‘code of ethics’ for general elections issued by EC while its sister company WhatsApp is, analytics companies, strategists, and fact-checkers said. It’s not clear if the platform is being monitored, they said.
“Based on our analysis, we are seeing a surge in political posts on Instagram,” said Prashant Puri, CEO at digital marketing firm AdLift. “These Instagram handles have followers ranging from a couple of hundred to tens of thousands.” Popular hashtags on Instagram include those revolving around BJP, Congress, NarendraModi, RahulGandhi, AAP, and Samajwadi party. Other highly used hashtags include #Abhoganyay, #Congresshaina, and #Namoagain. And there is fake news and misinformation galore.
“People dressed in saffron clothes who were accused of beating up Kashmir youths were Congress and SP workers and have been arrested,” claimed one post posted by an account called Modi_again. Another one called NarendraModi.Indian claimed that as per a BBC report, 89% of PM Modi’s 2014 promises are fulfilled or in progress. The BBC has not published such a report.
The same handle, which has over 3.5 lakh followers also said, the nation lost iron man Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for “colourful” Nehru, Atal Bihari Vajpayee for “mute” Manmohan Singh, and now it shouldn’t lose the “man of the future” Narendra Modi for “stupid pappu”. Hashtags like Narendra Modi, Congress, BJP and Rahul Gandhi have generated more than 16 lakh posts.
In a response to ET’s queries, Instagram said the Election Commission has not asked the company to take down any objectionable content so far and that the platform has not removed any accounts or posts linked to fake news and misinformation around political parties and candidates.
The Election Commission did not respond to ET’s queries till the time of going to press.
About 500 Facebook posts and links and two posts on Twitter were taken down during the 48-hour silent period before the first leg of polling, as per EC officials. Also, one WhatsApp number was disabled, but there has been no mention of Instagram so far.
“It’s surprising, if true, that Instagram may not be monitored for fake election related posts,” said Shammas Oliyath, founder of Check4Spam, a non-profit entity that verifies posts on social media. “For images already found on other social channels and debunked, it should be straight forward to report them on Instagram as well. However, I understand that for memes/trolls it’s more work to extract the text and then fact-check it, unless there can be a manual effort prescribed for it during this election season,” he said.
“I personally feel EC should have been much more proactive about social media and also EC might have underestimated the strength of today’s social media,” Oliyath said.
Priyanka Jha, a researcher at fact-checking website Alt News, said there is plenty of fake news and misinformation circulating on Instagram. “There is no monitoring of fake news and objectionable content on Instagram,” she said. “There is a lot of misinformation on the platform which is going unnoticed. There are a lot of pages and accounts currently circulating content on divisive politics and propaganda. This content has certainly gone up of late.”
On Tuesday, Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said its social media intermediary members are committed to supporting the Election Commission of India in holding free and fair elections in India. To this end, the 48-hour ‘silence period’ is very critical and participants to the Voluntary Code of Ethics for General Election 2019 have “operationalised their respective notification mechanisms”, it said.
Under the voluntary code of ethics, participating companies like BIGO, Byte Dance, Facebook/WhatsApp, Google, ShareChat and Twitter have undertaken to establish a high priority communication channel with the nodal officers designated by EC, the association said. Participants have also agreed to take action on content reported by the nodal officer, expeditiously, in accordance with the law, it added.