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FB, Google Assure Bombay HC Of Political Transparency In Run Up To LS Polls: Only Authorized Indian Advertisers To Be Allowed To Run Political Ads

Nitish Kashyap
19 Feb 2019 6:52 AM GMT
FB, Google Assure Bombay HC Of Political Transparency In Run Up To LS Polls: Only Authorized Indian Advertisers To Be Allowed To Run Political Ads
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Facebook and Google assured the Bombay High Court on Monday that they will make certain changes to their advertising policy ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in order to maintain electoral transparency.

Both Facebook and Google are respondents in a PIL filed by Sagar Suryawanshi from Pune. The Election Commission of India (ECI), Union of India, Ministry of Information Technology, YouTube and Twitter are the other respondents. The PIL seeks directions to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to prohibit all persons from posting sponsored advertisements that are political in nature 48 hours before polling day.

The affidavits were submitted on behalf of Facebook, Google and YouTube (which is owned by Google) before the bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice NM Jamdar.

Here are some of the significant excerpts from Facebook's affidavit:

"Facebook is voluntarily launching a number of tools to expand the transparency of current political advertising policies ahead of Indian General Elections that will take place from February 21, 2019.

In an effort to combat foreign interference, only authorized advertisers will be allowed to purchase political ads. Anyone who wants to run a political ad in India will need to first confirm his/her identity and location, and give more details about who placed the ad.

Political advertisements will include prominent disclaimers that are visible to the users. The user will be able to see information such as who published and/or paid for this ad, which will give users more information about who is responsible for the ads they see.

Additionally, as regards disclaimers for advertisements, authorized advertisers can identify themselves, a page they run, or another organisation is named, additional credentials like a phone number, email, website, or a Media Certification Monitoring Committee certificate from ECI will be required."

On behalf of Google and YouTube, one R Suresh Babu from Delhi filed an affidavit. The affidavit refers to the Supreme Court's judgment in the case of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting vs. M/s Gemini TV Pvt Ltd and states that according to the said judgment, any political ads proposed to be aired must be pre-certified by a designated committee appointed by the Election Commission of India.

Therefore, it is submitted in the affidavit that the onus of applying for pre-certificate lies on the political party or candidate proposing to buy space for political ads.

Google has announced the following changes in its election advertising policy –

  • Pre-Certificate from ECI- Before any political ads can be placed in Google's network, Google will require advertisers to submit pre-certificates issued by the ECI.
  • Verification of election advertisers- In order to have transparency and maintain authenticity, Google will allow only India-based advertisers to run political advertisements on their platforms.
  • Transparency report for election ads- Google will release a transparency report for political advertisements sharing data about who purchased election advertisements on Google's network and how much money is being spent by the advertiser. This database will be available for public research.

As for the petitioner's prayer seeking directions not to run ads in the 48-hour period before polling day, Google submitted that under Section 126 of the Representation of People Act, 1951 'any person' is prohibited from displaying any political content to the public through TV or other media 48 hours before the election. Therefore, Google is not exempt from the said rule. 

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