Facebook’s ad spending tracker data reveals that BJP is the largest advertiser on the social media platform in India in the “social issues, elections and politics” category, spending over Rs 4.61 crore between February 2019 and August 24, 2020.
The advertisements included in this category were not just posted on Facebook, but also on the platform’s other properties such as Instagram, Audience Network and Messenger.
Article 14 on Wednesday published a report by journalist Kunal Purohit on the Modi government’s ties to Facebook India and how these links served the platform’s commercial interests. (Read the full report here)
Facebook’s ad spending tracker shows that apart from BJP, four others in the top 10 advertisers were linked to the party, with three sharing the same address as the party’s national headquarters in Delhi.
Of the four advertisers, two were community pages —‘My First Vote for Modi’ (which spent Rs 1.39 crore) and ‘Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat’ (which spent Rs 2.24 crore)— while one was called ‘Nation With Namo’ which categorised itself as a news and media website (and spent Rs 1.28 crore on ads). All three pages post content related to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP without mentioning their links to the party.
The fourth was a page linked to former BJP MP RK Sinha, who owns Security and Intelligence Services (SIS). It spent Rs 0.65 crore on ads.
Huffpost India’s investigative report, published in April 2019, had found ‘Nation with NaMo’ and ‘Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat’ were pages run by a company called Association of Billion Minds, employed by the BJP to run online and offline campaigns.
“Nation With NaMo was an experiment,” a former ABM employee with direct knowledge of the matter had told HuffPost India. “If things blew out of proportion and turn out not so well for the party, then BJP would have a face-saving tactic, telling others that they don’t have any relation with this organisation.”
Data showed ‘Nation With Namo’ created its Facebook page in June 2013 and first called itself ‘Indiacag’ before changing it name to ‘Citizens for Accountable Governance’. It changed its name again in January 2018 to ‘Citizens for Modi Government’, before finally calling itself ‘Nation With Namo’ in February 2018.
Article 14′s report delved into the possible reasons Facebook refrained from taking action against pages linked to the the ruling party.
Facebook has programming collaborations with at least eight different government ministries and departments... These partnerships helped Facebook tap newer audiences, expand its user base and gain more advertisers, according to experts.Kunal Purohit, Article 14
Purohit’s report quoted information released by Facebook in 2019 which showed it took down 702 pages and users, of which 687 linked to the Congress, for not disclosing their links to the party. “But Facebook took no comparable action against those with undisclosed affiliations with the BJP,” the report said.
Congress Party’s Gaurav Pandhi and Alt News’s Pratik Sinha spoke to Purohit on how partnerships between Facebook and the Modi government can lead to an arrangement where the two favour each other.
“The reason why Facebook India is doing so well is because the government is promoting it. Since it prospers from this arrangement. Facebook will obviously not take action against the government,” Pandhi told Article14.
Facebook has been under fire in India after a Wall Street Journal report last week revealed its executive Ankhi Das opposed applying hate-speech rules to some Hindu nationalist individuals and groups, and to a BJP politician.
The company responded to the backlash saying it was a non-partisan platform which denounces hate and bigotry.
“We take allegations of bias incredibly seriously, and want to make it clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in any form,” Facebook India head Ajit Mohan said in an online post.
“We have removed and will continue to remove content posted by public figures in India when it violates our Community Standards.”