Free Software Movement of India and Swecha, on Saturday, organised an event as part of its Tech for Democracy campaign in Hyderabad. The campaign seeks a regulation in the use of social media during the Lok Sabha election campaign. The event, attended by nearly 800 people, saw 15 organizations endorsing FSMI's demands to the Election Commission on this count.
Speaking at the event, Y. Kiran Chandra, general secretary of FSMI, explained that with Google and Facebook dominating as much as 70% of internet traffic, they had a very significant role in determining election outcomes. This is especially true in a country like India where smartphone usage and internet access have drastically increased in the past few years.
A note released by the organisers and speakers at the event pointed out that a number of political parties, with the BJP leading the pack, are currently spending massive amounts of money on digital campaigning. Current electoral laws restrict spending by candidates but do not put a check on digital spending by political parties. This acquires great significance as over the past one year especially, there has been an increased focus on the impact of social media firms and digital monopolies on electoral processes. The Cambridge Analytica scandal led to investigations in multiple countries on the role of Facebook in their political systems, with a British parliamentary panel pointing out that big tech firms should not be allowed to behave like 'digital gangsters.' In India too.
The organisers related today's fight against digital colonialism to the freedom struggle. K Nageshwar, former MLC and a senior journalist, delivered the inaugural keynote and stressed on the importance of such events to build awareness and to take the struggle forward.
Former badminton player, Jwala Gutta, echoing the mood of the event, said that no one should stop questioning anything. Other speakers included Dr K S Rajan of IIIT-Hyderabad, Kashi Reddy and Ramprasad of ThoughtWorks Technologies, Srinivas Kodali, a cyber security researcher, Chandana Chakraborti, a science activist, author and film actress and Madhav Rao, lawyer and President of the Human Rights Forum, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
FSMI's has demanded that the Election Commission (EC) set up infrastructure to monitor and prevent any misuse of digital platforms and apps in subverting electoral processes. F.SMI has also sought a limit on digital spending by parties. The Election Commission has been asked to ensure that Facebook and digital platforms are not used to target people based on religion and caste. FSMI has also demanded that the EC reveal all discussions it had with digital firms regarding the elections, and that these firms be barred from conducting any experiments during the election process.
A charter of demands, asking the Election Commission to take steps to ensure that the social media and The organisation which signed the petitions include IEEE and CSI to bank employees associations and lawyer’s union. The charter was submitted by a delegation to the Chief Electoral Officer and Jt Chief Electoral Officer of Telangana. The CEO has accepted these demands and asked for a plan of implementation for the same.