Ensure no foreign influence in polls: Parliamentary panel tells Twitter; messaging platform agrees to appoint nodal officer

The move by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology(IT) comes against the backdrop of complaints of interference by social media platforms in the 2016 US elections.

Published: 25th February 2019 09:40 PM  |   Last Updated: 25th February 2019 09:40 PM   |  A+A-

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Social media company Twitter (Photo | AP)

By PTI

NEW DELHI: A parliamentary panel Monday asked Twitter to ensure that the upcoming Lok Sabha polls are not influenced by foreign entities and to address issues like political bias on a real-time basis after which the messaging platform agreed to appoint a nodal officer to work closely with the Election Commission.

The move by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology(IT) comes against the backdrop of complaints of interference by social media platforms in the 2016 US elections.

While Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey like before skipped appearance before the Committee, its Vice President and Head of Global Policy Colin Crowell was allowed to represent the micro-blogging site at the meeting.

This followed a personal letter written by Dorsey to the panel head and BJP leader Anurag Thakur who read out its contents.

Sources said the panel asked Twitter to ensure that Indian elections are not undermined and influenced by foreign entities.

Thakur, they said, stressed that Twitter must work on a real-time basis to address issues.

Twitter has been given 10 days time to reply in writing to questions that remained unanswered and its officials may be called again, the sources said, adding senior officials of other social media platforms such as Facebook and its affiliates WhatsApp and Instagram have been summoned for an appearance on March 6.

The sources, however, did not disclose the contents of Dorsey's letter.

Twitter agreed to appoint a nodal officer to work with the Election Commission to address any issues that arise during the elections, the sources privy to the deliberations of the meeting that lasted for three-and-a-half hours said.

Joel Kaplan (Vice President - Global Public Policy) will represent Facebook as well as its group companies - WhatsApp and Instagram at the March 6 meeting.

Facebook India VP and Managing Director Ajit Mohan and Ankhi Das (Director Public, Policy and Programs India) will represent Facebook India, the sources said.

Facebook did not comment on who would attend the meeting but said it is "deeply committed to India and to safeguarding our users and their rights on our family of apps".

"We deeply appreciate the opportunity to answer questions from the honourable parliamentary committee and to outline the specific steps we have taken to help ensure the safety of our users," a Facebook spokesperson told PTI.

This comes amid concerns in some quarters over possible misuse of social media tools to influence elections.

The government has been taking a strong view of misuse of social media platforms and is also proposing to amend IT rules to curb fake news and increase their accountability.

Over the last few weeks, Facebook, Twitter and Google have promised to infuse more transparency into political advertisements on their platform and announced a slew of measures as part of their election integrity efforts.

Twitter has, in the past, maintained it is committed to remaining unbiased and that its products, as well as policies, are never based on political ideology.

The micro-blogging site earlier this month stated that it believes in the impartiality and does not take any actions, such as blocking of accounts, based on political views.

Twitter, which has been accused by supporters of the ruling BJP of being biased against right-wing forces, had stated that "abuse and hateful conduct comes from accounts across the ideological spectrum" and it will continue to take action when rules are broken.

Explaining how trending topics on Twitter work, the US-based messaging platform had stated that the velocity or the number of tweets in a given time period and not the total number of tweets decides what is trending.

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