In a letter at the beginning of May, the Election Commission of India had written to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) seeking opinion on whether correspondence between EC and the social media companies can be disclosed to the Right to Information (RTI) applicants. However, a few social media companies have now denied sharing such correspondence.
A media report has said that IAMAI had written to the EC last week, stating that the companies had expressed reservations about sharing copies of their correspondence. It is being said that Facebook and Google categorically declined to share the information with RTI applicants.
Ahead of the general elections, IAMAI and social media companies had established a voluntary code of ethics with EC. The code aims to take down ‘problematic content’ and bring ‘transparency in political advertising’ during elections.
The social media companies had agreed to create a high-priority dedicated reporting mechanism for the Election Commission of India and appoint dedicated teams during the period of General Elections for taking expeditious action on any reported violations. The correspondence refers to the concerns over this misinformation on social media during the general elections and content takedown requests.
Further, Twitter, ShareChat, and ByteDance did not reply to EC’s request for consent. On reaching out, Facebook directed us to connect with IAMAI, Twitter declined to comment and Google didn’t respond to an email query on the same.
An EC official reportedly said that social media companies have privacy concerns. Usually, when the third party doesn’t agree to share, they don’t share the information. However, the EC has now yet decided if it will go ahead and share it with RTI applicants or not.
The Section 11 of the RTI Act lists the procedure to follow when disclosing third-party information. It says government bodies should seek a submission in writing or orally, regarding whether the information should be disclosed. However, the final decision is of the public information officer even if the third-party has objected to public disclosures.
The law further says that except in the case of trade or commercial secrets protected by law, disclosure may be allowed if the public interest in disclosure outweighs any possible harm or injury to the interests of such third-party.
In this context, it is notable that almost a third of India’s 900 Mn voters are active on social media. However, social media companies have not publicly disclosed takedowns done on the EC’s direction.