Facebook recently introduced its Ad Library report, which is a searchable database consisting of “ads related to politics and issues of national importance that have been run on Facebook or Instagram.” Alt New’s analysis of the report revealed that between February 7 to March 2, the maximum spending was by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), pro-BJP pages and central government, amounting to around 70% of the total ad revenue made public by Facebook.
The complete database published by Facebook includes 2,500 pages that ran ads during February-March 2019 to the tune of over Rs 4.1 crore.
Alt News analysed the pages that have spent more than or equal to Rs 10,000 during the said time period. There were 221 such pages that spent a little over Rs 3.8 crore on ads.
The analysis of these 221 pages revealed that the BJP, its supporting pages and pages by the central government were responsible for 69.57% or Rs 2.7 crore of the total spending on Facebook ads.
BJP pages record the highest spending
Facebook pages of BJP members and ministers and propaganda pages run directly by the party had an expenditure of over Rs 1.5 crore on political ads. A pro-BJP page, ‘Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat’, alone spent more than Rs 1.2 crore. ‘Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat’ was launched in February and is a BJP campaign that aims to help the party prepare its election manifesto before the Lok Sabha elections by seeking suggestions from over 10 crore people from across the country.
A distant second was the BJD that spent a little over Rs 8.6 lakh. Congress was in the third position with an expenditure of over Rs 5.6 lakh on Facebook ads, followed by YSR Congress (Rs 2.8 lakh), TDP (Rs 1.9 lakh), AIADMK (Rs 32,812), AAP (Rs 26,537), BSP (Rs 11,478) and Shiv Sena (Rs 10,000).
If we add to the above figures the expenditures made by central and state governments, the BJP still comes out on top. The central government had accounted for the maximum expenditure on government pages, with the Facebook page of ‘MyGov India’ alone generating over Rs 34 lakh revenue for Facebook.
Out of the top 10 political advertisers, including government pages, we found that eight were related to the BJP and spent nearly Rs 2.3 crore on Facebook ads.
Contrastingly, the highest spending opposition page was an initiative by the Karnataka government that spent a little over Rs 7 lakh in total and the official page of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of BJD that spent a little over Rs 8.5 lakh in total. The table below shows the top 10 opposition pages that made a combined investment of over Rs 21 lakh on political ads.
However, an even more glaring aspect is the enormous amounts of money spent by Facebook pages that did not declare direct links with any party.
Highest investment by pro-BJP pages
We found 126 pages that did not declare direct links with a political party but ran ads favouring a certain party, Out of these, 115 pages were pro-BJP (spending over Rs 74 lakh), six pages were pro-Congress (spending a little over Rs 2 lakh), three were AAP-supporting pages (spending Rs 80,505) and two were pro-TMC (spending Rs 24,339).
Out of the 115 pro-BJP Facebook pages, ‘Nation with NaMo’ alone spent a little over Rs 64 lakh in total.
Out of the Rs 64 lakh, ads worth Rs 52,24,286 ran without a disclaimer. According to Facebook’s policies, if an ad is related to politics or an issue of national importance, the advertiser has to disclose who paid for it. If they fail to comply, Facebook takes down the ad.
The social networking site took down ads sponsored by ‘Nation with NaMo’ (as seen in the screenshot above) after it determined that the page was running ads without disclosing who paid for them. However, we found that since February 28, 2019, the page has been disclosing advertiser details.
Non-discloser of advertiser details wasn’t limited to BJP. Several opposition-supporting pages also sponsored political ads without disclosing who paid for them.
The table below shows the top 10 pro-party Facebook pages, out of which eight support the BJP. All the pages marked in purple are the ones that sponsored political content without disclosing the advertisers, which leaves only ‘Nation with NaMo’ that recently began disclosing advertisers, and an AAP-supporting page – ‘Fans Of Harmohan Dhawan’ – disclosing advertiser details.
The data published by Facebook reveals the significance of social media for political parties, with BJP and its supporting pages investing over Rs 2.7 crore in one month to sponsor political content. It is clear that parties are willing to spend huge amounts of money to shape public opinion online, with a bulk of these ads impacting young voters.
However, the point that requires our greatest attention is the substantial investment by pages not having declared links with parties but pushing propaganda in their favour. For instance, our analysis earlier revealed that pro-BJP pages spent over Rs 74 lakh in a month’s time on sponsored content. The source of funds for these pages is unclear but needs to be explored. If these pages are run directly or indirectly by political parties, the investment should rightly be disclosed to the Election Commission of India.
Independent journalism that speaks truth to power and is free of corporate and political control is possible only when people start contributing towards the same. Please consider donating towards this endeavour to fight fake news and misinformation.