A group of 48 pages accounts for more than half the political advertisements in all the purchases above Rs 50,000 on Facebook. Most of these pages are labelled “community”, “news” or “personal blog”, and they are not directly linked to political parties. A majority of the ads promoted content to favour the BJP.
Over the last six weeks, 48 pages bought 18,000 of the 35,000 ads spending Rs 5.3 crore of the total Rs 12.7 crore, an analysis of all ad purchases above Rs 50,000 on Facebook by The Sunday Express has found. In total, Rs 14.7 crore was spent on 72,694 ads on Facebook and ads of above Rs 50,000 account for over 85 per cent of the money spent.
The biggest spenders on advertising not directly linked to a party were pages called “Bharat Ke Maan Ki Baat” (Rs 2.2 crore on roughly 3,200 ads), “My First Vote for Modi” (Rs 1 crore with 7,200 ads), and “Nation with NAMO” (Rs 1.2 crore on 3,100). All these pages were labelled “community” by Facebook.
Several pages also favoured the Congress but were are not labelled as such. A page called “Mudda Dhaba” (2.5 lakh on 35 ads) is labelled “entertainment website” and has as publisher, Hitesh Chawla, who was given the contract for the Congress’s social media outreach. “Shut the Fake UP” (2.4 lakh on 260 ads) is labelled “community” and run by DesignBoxed, which also works for the Congress.
Apart from such “party-affiliated” ads, around 150 pages were labelled “politician” or “public figure”, often bearing the name of a Lok Sabha candidate. These account for a quarter of overall spending, with Rs 3 crore on 9,800 ads. The largest chunk of these individual politician pages came from the South, which spent Rs 1.4 crore on 5,000 ads.
Another 35 pages labelled “political party” or “political organisation” spent not even a fifth of the overall spend – Rs 2 crore on 4,500 ads. Again, the most represented region in these “party-owned” pages was the south with Rs 55 lakh on 704 ads.
Incidentally, the social media giant took down roughly a quarter of the ads on “party-affiliated” pages because they “ran without a disclaimer,” but this action was taken because the advertiser did not disclose that the ad was political.
This disclaimer is not in reference to the party-affiliation of the advertiser. Also, many of the biggest spenders in this category were able to display their ads again once they marked their advertising as political, according to the Facebook archive.
Facebook records also show that only around 80 pages posted ads in the BJP’s favour but they accounted for almost half the overall spend at Rs 6.5 crore and bought 60 per cent of the ads.
Pages running ads supporting the Congress spent Rs 1 crore for around 4,400 ads. Congress-related advertising was only 8 per cent of the overall spending and 13 per cent of the overall ad space. The Grand Old Party had most of its spending from pages that were labeled as a political party and most of its ad space from individual candidates labeled as politicians.
Another BJP-supporting page called “The True Picture” and spending Rs 5.4 lakh was labeled “news and media website” with “BlueKraft Digital” as the publisher. The Indian Express reported on the links between the BJP and BlueKraft Digital Foundation last year.
Some pages were labeled “personal blog” such as “Modi 11” or “social service” such as “Modi for New India.”
TDP had roughly Rs 81 lakh spending in their favor, Rs 26 lakh of which was not directly linked to the political party through “community pages” such as “AP Rises with CBN” and “AP with CBN.”
The next tiers of political advertising was in favour of BJD (Rs 66 lakh) and YSRCP (Rs 62 lakh) followed by AIADMK (Rs 18 lakh), Shiv Sena (Rs 7.9 lakh), AAP (3.8 lakh), BSP (3.8 lakh), DMK (3.1 lakh) and TMC (1.5 lakh).