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Should Election Campaigns be made virtual?

Should Election Campaigns be made virtual?

Relevance:

  • GS 2 || Polity || Constitutional Bodies || Election Commission

Why in news?

  • In view of the COVID-19 surge, and the fact that public rallies are super-spreader events, should campaigning be restricted to virtual mode — at least until the pandemic is behind us.

Background

  • India is witnessing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with record numbers of new cases and deaths every day. At the same time, States holding Assembly elections have seen mass rallies by political parties.
  • In most such rallies, especially in West Bengal, which still has two phases to go and where campaigning is still on, COVID-19 protocols such as masking and physical distancing are blatantly flouted.

Making election campaigns virtual

  • People at election rallies didn’t wear masks, neither did politicians.
  • The problem is that even political leaders are not wearing masks.
  • The use of different media platforms such as TV, Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp for election campaigning is known as electioneering on social media. Due to the dramatic rise in internet usage, internet-enabled cell phones, and the number of new voters in the 18-25 year bracket, social media sites have a significant influence.

In support of virtual campaigning

  • Less role of money in virtual campaigning hence there would be Parity between candidates.
  • It enables political parties to effectively communicate with the general public on a personal level and in an interactive manner.
    • For example, social media makes it simple to disseminate information about upcoming events, schedules, current events, and hot topics.
  • Mass rallies are just a tool to energize the party cadre, the strength of a party cadre, or individual party workers, is often associated with their ability to get people to rallies.
  • USA
    • In the USA, television debates in the US presidential elections are watched by millions of TV. Ask the future post holders to directly confront each other on important issues. National leaders misuse their influence at the local level.
  • The number of likes on a Youtube video or shares of a social post is an indication of the popularity as well.
  • India has added the number to the voter’s list. These young first-time voters consume content primarily on their phones/smartphones.
  • A cheaper way of campaigning
    • It is a cheaper and democratic way of campaigning as any candidate can find an internet-savvy volunteer to take on the task of managing the social media posting for the campaign.
  • Easy reach to masses
    • Platforms like Facebook and Twitter enable candidates to directly reach out to voters, mobilize supporters, and influence the public agenda.
    • It provides a wide range of choices to political parties to tailor their advertisements to suit the particular section of electorates.

Arguments against/Challenges of online or virtual campaigning

  • No buzz
    • Election buzz creates participation and huge buzz in the masses and hence makes democracy become
    • Fake news, deep fakes, and political advertising are the biggest challenges threatening the fundamentals of democracy.
  • Not Localised
    • Communicating via television isn’t as localized as rallies are.
  • Lack of digital penetration
    • There is uneven internet connectivity. The ruling party can misuse his position for more airtime on national media.
  • The number of likes on a YouTube video or shares of a social media post is an indicator of popularity as well.
  • The mass rally has no substitute
    • Social media platforms are no substitute for the kind of optics that you can create from a mass rally. When a leader says something, and there is massive applause that cannot be replaced.
    • There are different worlds out there, and the people who are on Twitter and Facebook cannot be compared with the kind who come for big rallies.
  • It can dent the process of a free and fair election and can even compromise the sovereignty of a country.
    • For example, alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election included covert ads on social media and Facebook groups pumping out falsehoods.
  • Misusing the social media
    • Political parties can unethically leverage data for campaigning on social media with the help of organizations like Cambridge Analytica which stands accused of misusing the data of 50 million users stored on Facebook and rigging multiple elections worldwide, of political involvement in India.

Electoral Laws and Digital Media

  • EC is empowered under Article 324of the Indian Constitution to conduct free and fair elections in the country. Under this Article, ECI draws power to regulate political advertising.
  • Section 43A, The Information Technology Act, 2000 provides compensation for failure to protect data by body corporate. However, it has limited applicability to political parties or data brokers that market personal data at a massive scale. For instance, WhatsApp groups based on voter lists coupled with phone numbers and caste, gender, and other sensitive information to target voters with propaganda without their consent.
  • It is the need of the hour that the Electoral Laws in India must be drafted specifically into a new act giving powers to the authorities to deal with the ever-growing area of digital media and its issues to ensure that the Elections are held in a truly fair and competitive manner and the true purpose of Democracy is served fairly.

Way forward

  • Since electioneering on social media has the potential to seriously damage the Constitution’s basic framework of a free and fair election, all main stakeholders – the Election Commission, Government, Political Parties, and Social Media Platforms – should formulate a strategy to protect the election process from the negative effects of electioneering on social media.
  • The self-regulations are not enough for the social media platforms to keep an eye over the content, the EC is having a hard time enforcing its powers not having specific laws to deal with the upcoming issues like propaganda spreading, fake news, paid news, et cetera for which the use of digital media and social media is being made.

Conclusion

  • Holding election rallies virtually in the middle of the election is no wise option. EC should have opted for some innovations of the holding comapigning in case of unforeseen circumstances(Eg pandemic). India shoud learn the lessons from the current situation and innovate some certain ways to establish connection with the people.

Mains model question

  • Should Election Campaigns be made virtual?

References