India to tackle hate speech ahead of election

NEW DELHI • India's election commission is preparing to tighten regulations to deal with an expected escalation in social media-driven hate speech in the lead-up to next year's polls.

There has been a rise in religious and ethnic tensions in recent months as people increasingly turn to social media to push political views. At least 24 people have been killed this year, driven by fake rumours about child kidnappings and cow smuggling.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has established a panel to examine the growing use of platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube, and recommend ways to deal with violations, said election commissioner Ashok Lavasa.

"Fake news and paid news - all these are matters of concern when social media is being misused," Mr Lavasa said. "We are looking at enforcing existing instructions and tightening regulations so that loopholes can be plugged."

India joins a growing list of countries attempting to curb the misuse of social media in election campaigns.

In the run-up to a closely fought election in Malaysia in May, former prime minister Najib Razak - dogged by corruption allegations - introduced a fake news law that his successor, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has since vowed to repeal. Singapore and the Philippines are also considering introducing legislation on fake news, while Germany has a new law that compels social media networks to remove hate speech.

Opposition parties say intolerance in India has been rising since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Lawmakers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party say they are not to blame and insist state governments must deal with anti-social elements.

 
 

Holding elections in the world's second-most populous country is a complex and daunting task. The ECI has already begun preparations on logistic and security arrangements in the country of 1.3 billion people, scheduled to elect their new federal government next April and May.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2018, with the headline 'India to tackle hate speech ahead of election'. Print Edition | Subscribe