Social Media

2019 Polls: Taking steps towards bringing transparency to ads related to politics in India, says Facebook

Social networking giant Facebook has announced fresh steps to increase advertisement transparency and defence against foreign interference ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in India.

Now anyone who wants to run an advertisement in India related to politics will need to first confirm their identity and location, and give more details about who placed the advertisement, the social networking giant said in a statement late Thursday, a news gathering agency reported.

“We’re making big changes to the way we manage these ads on Facebook and Instagram. We’ve rolled out these changes in the US, Brazil and the UK, and next, we’re taking our first steps towards bringing transparency to ads related to politics in India,” said Sarah Clark Schiff, Product Manager at Facebook.

“This is key as we work hard to prevent abuse on Facebook ahead of India’s general elections next year.”

ALSO READ: Facebook report reveals steep rise in data requests from government of India in first half of 2018

Facebook said the advertisers in India will have to comply to new rules starting from Friday.

“The identity and location confirmation will take a few weeks so advertisers can start that process by using their mobile phones or computer to submit proof of identity and location. This will help avoid delays when they run political ads next year,” informed Schiff.

Advertisers in India can download the latest Facebook app and visit Settings to get started.

Early 2019, Facebook would also start to show a disclaimer on all political ads that provides more information about who’s placing the ad, and an online searchable Ad Library for anyone to access.

“This is a library of all ads related to politics from a particular advertiser as well as information like the budget associated with an individual ad, a range of impressions, as well as the demographics of who saw the ad,” said Facebook.

At that time, the company would also begin to enforce the policy that requires all ads related to politics be run by an advertiser who’s completed the authorisations process and be labelled with the disclaimer.

“We will not require eligible news publishers to get authorised, and we won’t include their ads in the Ad Library,” Facebook added.

Over the past one year, the social media giant headed by Mark Zuckerberg has been embroiled in controversies ranging from censoring posts and user accounts in 2016, for poorly handling user account information by being susceptible to breaches or letting third parties use such information as tools for analysing voter tendencies.

ALSO READ: #JournalismIsNotACrime: Facebook censors news pages, profiles for posting Mannan Wani’s images in Kashmir

A documentary series by Channel 4 Dispatches has revealed that moderators at Facebook are protecting far-right activists by preventing their pages from getting deleted even after they violate the rules set up by the social media giant.

But in this, Facebook is not alone.

Recently, an internal company briefing produced by Google and accessed by Breitbart News argues that due to a variety of factors, including the election of President Trump, the “American tradition” of free speech on the internet is no longer viable.

The briefing titled the ‘Good Censor’, admits that Google and other tech platforms now “control the majority of online conversations” and have undertaken a “shift towards censorship” in response to unwelcome political events around the world. One such conflict zone which braves this online control is Indian Administered Kashmir.

The Google Censor document mentions that ‘Facebook and Twitter were implicated in governmental censorship of clashes between rebels and Indian authorities in Kashmir.’

ALSO READ: Activist Marry Scully censored by Facebook for ‘linking Kashmiri and Palestinian struggles’

“The platforms removed posts and suspended accounts about the events, including images of rebel Burhan Wani’s funeral, highlighting the platforms’ complicity with government censorship as they attempted to stay on the right side of global authorities,” the report says.

Facebook came under heavy criticism after it censored content related to killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, who was killed on July 8, 2016. In the aftermath, close to 100 people were killed by the Indian armed forces in protest that spread across Kashmir. The local police raided newspaper offices and seized thousands of printed copies.

Mobile phone coverage, landlines and internet services were curbed throughout the region.

The censorship started after the internet blew up with viral images of Burhan Wani’s funeral, with users posting it as their profile picture, or simply sharing it through their accounts.

Many found their accounts blocked or even deleted, with targets including Dibyesh Anand, an academic at the University of Westminster; Huma Dar, an academic at UC Berkley and California State and Mubashir Bukhari, a journalist writing for Kashmir Monitor.

ALSO READ: #JournalismIsNotACrime: Facebook censors news pages, profiles for posting Mannan Wani’s images in Kashmir

Facebook’s response to the posts being removed were that the post ‘violated community standards’ and that “one of our main priorities is the comfort and safety of the people who use Facebook, and we don’t allow credible threats to harm others, support for violent organizations or exceedingly graphic content on Facebook.”

In a statement, Facebook said: “There is no place on Facebook for content that praises or supports terrorists, terrorists organisations or terrorism. We welcome discussion on these subjects but any terrorist content has to be clearly put in context which condemns these organisations and or their violent activities. Therefore, profiles and content supporting or praising Hizbul Mujahideen and Burhan Wani are removed as soon as they are reported to us. In this instance, some content was removed in error, but this has now been restored.”

The Washington Post had reported that the account of Arif Ayaz Parrey, an editor with an environmental magazine in New Delhi, was disabled for more than a day. Parray administered the Facebook account of a discussion group called the Kashmir Solidarity Network, whose page was also removed.

Professor Dibyesh Anand of London’s Westminster University had said his posts about the actions of Indian armed forces, which have drawn criticism for their violent tactics, were removed more than twice.

Apart from Facebook, a clampdown pattern on journalists reporting or photographing on gunfights between militants and armed forces has erupted in the past couple of days.

Journalists covering the gunfight in Fateh Kadal area of Srinagar city had been physically assaulted and abused by the Indian armed forces near the site of the gunfight.

The journalists had been performing their professional duties when the SOG and CRPF personnel started hitting them. At least ten journalists were physically assaulted by the forces.

ALSO READ: #JournalismIsNotACrime: List of Journalists killed and attacked in Kashmir proves otherwise

“There was no stone pelting going on,” a journalist from news agency ABP told Free Press Kashmir over the phone. “All of us were just standing there, reporting from the ground and talking to DIG Kashmir when suddenly, there was a lot of shouting by the security men and then they started beating us. My cameraman was first hit on his left elbow. While I tried to stop them, I was also beaten. The DIG tried to intervene, but they completely disregarded him. Then SP North Kashmir also started beating a few people. I’m not sure if they were journalists.”

Moreover, the images of three journalists in Kashmir being physically assaulted by the Jammu and Kashmir police and Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) surfaced two weeks back.

ALSO READ: #JournalismIsNotACrime: Arrested journalist Aasif Sultan’s judicial remand extended till October 1

The three journalists working with Srinagar based Kashmir Walla, had reportedly been detained in Nawab Bazar area of Srinagar city. Eyewitnesses said that the forces beat them up badly and took them away in an armoured Rakshak vehicle.

As the clashes between youth and the armed forces were reported from some areas of the city, the three journalists were outside the office premises when the forces barged at them.

The three journalists had been identified as Online News Editor of the Kashmir Walla, Saqib Mugloo, Features Writer, Kaiser Andrabi and Multimedia Journalist, Bhat Burhan.


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