The ruling BJP was the largest advertiser on Facebook in India on “social issues, elections and politics” over the last 18 months, spending over Rs 4.61 crore since February 2019, followed by the main Opposition Congress party with Rs 1.84 crore, according to data available until August 24 on the social media giant’s spending tracker.
Among the top 10 spenders in this category are four other advertisers who are linked to the BJP, including three that share the same address in Delhi as the ruling party’s national headquarters, according to the tracker.
These four include two community pages, ‘My First Vote for Modi’ (Rs 1.39 crore) and ‘Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat’ (Rs 2.24 crore); Nation With Namo, which is categorised as a news and media website (Rs 1.28 crore); and, a page (Rs 0.65 crore) affiliated to BJP leader and former MP R K Sinha, who owns Security and Intelligence Services (SIS).
Taken together with the BJP, their ad spend totals Rs 10.17 crore, which is about 64 per cent of the total advertising (Rs 15.81 crore) by the top ten in this category. The period covered includes the general elections in April-May 2019, which saw the BJP return to power with an overwhelming majority.
The other political entity among the top ten in this category is Aam Aadmi Party with a spend of Rs 69 lakh.
According to the data, Facebook India’s total ad spend under this category since February 2019 is Rs 59.65 crore. The ads were not restricted to the website and app, but were spread across other Facebook properties including Instagram, Audience Network and Messenger.
Incidentally, on August 14, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology sought an explanation from Facebook on The Wall Street Journal report that its top executive cited business imperatives and “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP despite the fact that they were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.”
The community pages, ‘My First Vote for Modi’ and ‘Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat’ were created in January 2019, and Nation With Namo in June 2013. All three promote content related to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, but do not mention any direct links to the party on their pages.
Under information about advertisers available on Facebook, all three have listed their address as “6 – A, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, Near ITO, Minto Bridge Colony, Barakhamba, New Delhi 110002”, which is the national headquarters of the BJP.
The other advertisers among the top ten in the category include the news platform Dailyhunt with just over Rs 1 crore and e-commerce platform Flipkart with Rs 86.43 lakh, the data show.
The list also includes a video-sharing app Public (Rs 1.24 crore), which focuses on news videos in regional languages and has existed on Facebook since October 2018, but with no information in the advertiser section.
According to Facebook, an ad is categorised under “social issues, elections and politics” if it is made by or on behalf of a candidate, political party or advocates an outcome; is about a particular election or referendum; is regulated by political advertising; or is about a local social issue.
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