Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora on Friday said that social media platforms would be held responsible if they fail to make arrangements to stop misuse and do not take prompt action against “adverse” posts ahead of the Bihar Assembly elections, the Hindustan Times reported. Bihar will vote in three phases from October 28 to November 7, and the results will be announced on November 10.

“Adverse use of social media platforms has emerged as a new challenge in recent times,” Arora said on Friday. “If adequate arrangements aren’t made to counter the misuse of the social media, then they will not be allowed to take pretext of being only a provider and shall be held responsible if necessary action is not taken promptly and adequately.”

The Election Commission also asked political parties to sensitise their candidates against
“malpractices, malicious propaganda and instances of hate speech” saying that such actions will be dealt with “sternly” and “harshly”. “The commission would like to make it emphatically clear that anyone who misuses any such platform, such as for fomenting communal tensions, etc. for electoral purposes, shall have to face consequences under the law of the land,” Arora said.

An unidentified official of the Election Commission said that a call on controversial material on social media will have to be taken on a case-to-case basis. “Elections are conducted under Constitution and the Supreme Court in its judgement has held on a number of occasions that Article 324 gives vast powers to the Commission subject to certain restrictions such as fairness and transparency,” he said.

Article 324 of the Indian Constitution allows the Election Commission the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”. The commission had used this Article last year during the Lok Sabha after clashes between cadres of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress.

The commission’s warning comes amid allegations that Facebook failed to take action against hate speech from BJP-linked handles during the Delhi Assembly elections. On September 12, the Delhi Assembly panel had summoned Facebook India head Ajit Mohan after The Wall Street Journal report made the allegations. However, on September 23, the Supreme Court ordered the Delhi Assembly panel to not take any coercive action against Mohan till October 15.