With five states going to, or in the process of elections, social media resembles a battle turf with every political party trying to win the battle. In such a scenario, how do social media platforms manage their work? What are the challenges they face and how are they ensuring that fake news does not dominate or even alter the political discourse? Who are they partnering with to ensure effective implementation?

EastMojo conducted an email interview with Payal Kamat, Public Policy & Government, Twitter India. Here are the excerpts:

1. What has been the biggest challenge for Twitter vis-a-vis the upcoming state elections in India? 

The public conversation on Twitter is never more important than during elections, and it’s when people come to Twitter for credible information about where, when and how to vote, to learn about candidates and their platforms, and to engage in healthy civic debate and conversation. 

With the states of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand approaching elections, we have been proactively implementing products and policies to connect people with credible sources of information.

Drawing on lessons and insights from previous elections, both globally and in India, we have been implementing significant products, policies, and enforcement updates to protect and support the conversation around the #AssemblyElections2022. Since the ongoing elections are happening in multiple states and concern people with different linguistic preferences, we have expanded our teams to ensure they are well-equipped with local, cultural, and language expertise to be able to support these multilingual elections. Our global cross-functional teams are also tasked with keeping the service safe and addressing threats posed by bad faith actors. 

Additionally, to make it easier for people to find credible information and become a #JagrukVoter, we’ve been working in partnership with official authorities including the Election Commission of India (@ECISVEEP), and we will continue to harness the power of the Open Internet to strengthen civic dialogue and encourage quality participation this election season.

Further, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are consistently working towards reminding people to adopt COVID-19 appropriate behaviour as they go out to cast their vote. 

2. How is Twitter dealing with misinformation, especially fake news, circulated during the run-up to the elections? Is Twitter India working with fact-checking websites and if yes, could you shed some light on the same? 

Public conversation is critical during elections, and Twitter is where this unfolds. The service democratizes access to information and—at its best—provides insights into a diversity of perspectives on critical issues in real-time. We have a flexible approach towards elections, which takes into account cultural context and complexities of the respective region/country. 

Our curation team is introducing a series of pre-bunks to help the audiences with content from National and State Election Commissions, as well as civil society partners such as Youth Ki Awaaz (@YouthKiAwaaz). The pre-bunks are available in Hindi and English and cover various topics including information on electoral process, polling booths and officials, guidelines on how to register your vote, how to vote using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), latest guidelines issued by the @ECISVEEP to stay COVID safe while taking part in the election process, and more. These prompts will appear on people’s home timelines. 

We maintain proactive engagement and dialogue with the election authorities at the National and State level and are committed to doing our part to enhance participatory conversation and voter awareness, with initiatives such as our multilingual election search prompt making it easy for the public to find credible and authoritative information about critical election topics like candidate lists, voting dates, polling booths, Electronic Voting Machines and voter registration. 

We continue to engage in transparent and consistent communication with political parties from across the spectrum, and hold training and workshops with them, reaching candidates, elected officials, and relevant party officials. Through these training and workshops, we work towards helping them understand how to use our service to connect with the public during elections, how to report issues, and other escalation-related processes. 

Beyond political parties and election authorities, we are also engaging with NGO partners and public policy voices to contribute towards empowering every #JagrukVoter to participate in dialogue and healthy conversations on Twitter. We have also been hosting workshops and training sessions for non-profits across the five states, which are aimed at developing literacy materials and pre-bunks to tackle misinformation around the elections. 

3. How is Twitter ensuring voters have access to reliable information on the service this election season?

Public conversation is critical during elections, and Twitter is where this unfolds. We are committed to empowering democratic conversations, facilitating meaningful political debate, and driving civic participation during elections. Politicians and political parties use Twitter to communicate with Indian citizens in the country and across the world, while citizens leverage the platform to raise their queries directly with contesting leaders. 

On our part, we remain committed to ensure that each voter is a #JagrukVoter. Our efforts and initiatives are aimed at ensuring voter education by facilitating critical thinking, and paving the way to informed choice and quality voter participation. 

For #AssemblyPolls2022, we’ve introduced a dedicated information search prompt with the Election Commission of India (@ECISVEEP) and Chief Electoral Officers to help people find credible and authoritative information around #AssemblyElections2022. The search prompt is available in English, Hindi, Punjabi and Konkani, and people can use these to find reliable election related information on topics such as candidate lists, voting dates, polling booths, etc., by clicking on the Explore tab and entering their query with election-related hashtags and search terms such as #AssemblyPolls2022, #उत्तराखंडविधानसभाचुनाव, #उत्तरप्रदेशचुनाव२०२२, #गोवाविधानसभावेंचणूक2022, #ਪੰਜਾਬਵਿਧਾਨਸਭਾਚੋਣਾਂ2022 and #ManipurElections2022

The prompt will appear on top of the search results, displaying tabs to resources from the Election Commission of India (ECI) and Chief Electoral Officers. Users can click on either of the tabs to access authentic information around the elections.

We have introduced a voter education quiz in English and Hindi that addresses various aspects of the election process. The quiz asks questions about voter eligibility, polling process, voter ID registration, protocols at election booths, among other things. By taking the quiz, voters can clear their doubts and learn more on how to prepare and effectively participate in the elections, as well as encourage others to get such information  by Tweeting their quiz scores as shareable scorecards. Through the quiz, we hope to help voters become better informed and ensure that everyone who votes is a  #JagrukVoter. Keeping in mind the COVID-19 situation, we are also committed to not taking our foot off the pedal, and hence through this quiz and other initiatives, are working towards reminding people to adopt COVID-19 appropriate behaviour as they go out to cast their vote. 

4. What are the Twitter safety products and policies that come into play to protect the integrity of the election conversations? 

We are committed to our goal of making it easy for people to find credible information on Twitter and limiting the spread of potentially harmful and misleading content. To this end, we have prioritised our approach to tackle misinformation based on the highest potential for harm in context to the elections, through our policies on synthetic and manipulated media and civic integrity.

Our Synthetic and Manipulated Media (SAMM) Policy prohibits the sharing of synthetic, manipulated, or out-of-context media that may deceive or confuse people and lead to harm (“misleading media, including voter suppression or intimidation”). We may also label Tweets containing SAMM to help people understand the Tweet’s authenticity and to provide additional context.

Further, in line with our Civic Integrity Policy, we may take down content containing false or misleading information about

(1) process and procedures,

(2) false information intended to intimidate or dissuade people from participating in the elections and voting,

(3) accounts that misrepresent their affiliation with a political candidate or party.  

We continue to remain vigilant about identifying and eliminating influence and information campaigns targeting election conversations. If and when we have clear evidence of state-affiliated information operations, our priority is to enforce our rules and remove accounts engaging in this behaviour, to protect the integrity of online discourse during the elections. 

5. What are the biggest limitations that Twitter has in its efforts to curb misinformation, and what can regular users do to help Twitter curb fake news and misinformation? 

We strongly encourage people on Twitter to familiarise themselves with the Twitter Rules so they can report anything they believe is in violation. At Twitter, we use a combination of machine learning and have a team of specialists to review the reports to help us determine whether the content violates our Rules

We continue to invest in technological solutions and have deployed tools backed by technology to more efficiently detect/surface abusive content that’s most likely to cause harm and should be reviewed first by our dedicated team of specialists who provide 24/7 global coverage in multiple Indic languages.

6. Could you give us some stats on how many accounts has Twitter blocked/banned in the run-up to the elections, and what have been the main reasons for the same? 

At Twitter, we are committed to fostering free, healthy and open civic conversations, and believe that our service is a place for different voices to be heard. Twitter’s top priority is keeping the people and communities on our platform safe, and we have a zero-tolerance approach to platform manipulation including spam and any other attempts to undermine the integrity of the service. Our rules are enforced objectively on content and accounts, and we remain neutral to political identity and ideology. 

7. Regarding Manipur, could you shed some light on what has been Twitter India’s observations regarding the run-up to the elections? Say, has Twitter India encountered fake news, hate speeches, misinformation from Manipur too, compared to other states like UP, Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand? 

Earning and maintaining the trust of the people on our service is of utmost importance. We follow a flexible approach towards elections which takes into account cultural context and complexities of the respective region/country. 

We have been working closely with election authorities across national and state levels to address knowledge gaps and connect people with authoritative information when they come to Twitter. For #AssemblyPolls2022, we’ve introduced a dedicated information search prompt with the Election Commission of India (@ECISVEEP) and Chief Electoral Officers to help people find credible and authoritative information around #AssemblyElections2022 and become a  #JagrukVoter. The search prompt is available in English and regional languages as well. Additionally, we have launched an emoji for the election conversation, which represents the voters’ right to exercise their right to choose. The emoji can be activated by Tweeting with hashtags including dedicated hashtags for Manipur – #ManipurElections and #ManipurElections2022

We have also launched initiatives to build original programming with key partners in an effort to serve the public conversation. We have been working with Youth ki Awaaz and 20 other non profits across the five election states to launch ‘Democracy Adda’ – forums to discuss issues that are important for youth in these elections. We continue to work with these organisations to amplify public service content focused on election processes and building voter resiliency. These are in multiple-lingual initiatives and will continue to involve grassroots voices.

Also read: Manipur 2022: Meet Ram Muivah, Ukhrul’s NPF candidate on a mission

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