As part of its initiative to bring transparency to political advertisements on Facebook and Instagram, Meta launched the Ad Library in 2018, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The purpose of the library was to provide users with detailed information about ads related to social issues, elections, or politics. However, research over the years has raised several questions about the declining transparency in the functioning of Meta’s Ad Library. Political parties and their affiliates have exploited the Library’s loopholes by running political ads through proxy pages circumventing Meta’s transparency policies.

Alt News has published reports showing how political parties have used proxy pages to conceal their identities and intentions while running ads. Our reports have revealed that political parties use these pages to spread false information, target leaders of other parties, and run offensive political ads that include racist, hateful speech, and glorification of violence, hiding the identity of the advertisers. By evading the transparency requirements of the Meta Ad Library, they undermine the whole purpose of the Library.

Meta’s lack of scrutiny over these ads has allowed these pages to exploit the library’s weaknesses, enabling them to run political ads without proper disclosures. This lack of accountability from Meta raises questions about the company’s commitment to transparency and its willingness to address challenges posed by system manipulation for commercial gain.

During the recently concluded 2024 Lok Sabha elections, India’s political parties utilized every medium to reach voters, with social media playing a crucial role in shaping public narratives and propaganda. This report looks into a network of 14 Facebook pages that spent heavily on political ads during the election. Our probe has revealed that these pages violated the platform’s policies for running political ads, which Meta ignored. To run political ads on Facebook, advertisers are required to get a disclaimer approved, which reveals who is financing the ads. This information is publicly stored in Meta’s Ad Library for seven years for transparency.

What is a Disclaimer?

A disclaimer is required to run ads related to social issues, elections, or politics on Facebook and Instagram. According to Meta’s policy, this disclaimer should accurately disclose the name of the entity or person responsible for running the ads to ensure transparency. On Meta’s Business Help Center page, the disclaimer review process states that the disclaimer must be accurate, complete and truthful, including the name of the organization paying for the ad.

According to information available on the Meta Business Help Center, Meta has country-specific policies for approving disclaimers for running political ads on Facebook or Instagram. For India, Meta currently offers two options for creating disclaimers in India. The first option is the “Organisation Name,” and the second option is the “Page Name.” However, if a page opts to get its disclaimer approved using the “Page Name” option, the page itself must be at least 30 days old.

Our investigations revealed a critical violation by these pages in which disclaimers for pages running political ads were approved by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, without proper disclosure. As a result, the disclaimers were used by a network of several new proxy pages to bypass the 30-day rule. The disclaimers were used by the proxy pages of this network until the new pages themselves became 30 days old and eligible to create ‘page name’ based disclaimers. In some cases, these pages started running political ads the same day the page was created without proper disclosure. These pages also ran ads targeting opposition political parties and leaders, as well as political ads glorifying murder. Alt News has previously published an investigation into a network of such pages linked to the BJP .

‘Ulta Chashma – उल्टा चस्मा’

The disclaimer on the Ulta Chashma page violates Meta’s policy that the disclaimer should accurately reflect the name of the organization or person responsible for running the ad. Neither on this page nor in the disclaimer, is there any mention of Ulta Chashma being an organization or entity. There is no mention of any organization or entity on its website or in Meta’s ad library. The lack of proper information in the disclaimer clearly eliminates the scope of transparency. The domain of the Ulta Chashma website had been purchased just three days before the disclaimer was approved by Meta (November 7, 2023). The mobile number in the disclaimer has been constantly found switched off. The disclaimer on the ‘Ulta Chashma’ page was created just four days before it was approved by Meta. The first page of this network, ‘Ulta Chashma’, was created on November 6, 2023, and on November 10, 2023, the disclaimer of this page was approved by Meta and from the same day this page started running political advertisements.

Here is a list of some pages in which it can be seen that political advertisements were run within 30 days of their creation. The table below shows the creation of these pages, the date of the first disclaimer and its approval, the date of the first ad run, and the changes made to the disclaimer and its date. A pattern is visible in these details that new pages used the ‘Ulta Chashma’ disclaimer to run advertisements before they became 30 days old. (According to Meta’s policy, pages less than 30 days old are not allowed to create disclaimers in ‘page name’) According to Meta policy, after 30 days any page becomes eligible to create a disclaimer in its page name, then these pages created disclaimers in their name and thus bypassed Meta’s policy. Most of the pages in this list have been reported by Alt News. These pro-BJP pages targeted Opposition leaders through advertisements.

Page Name Creation Date First Disclaimer Date First Ad Date New Disclaimer Disclaimer Change
Ulta Chashma – उल्टा चस्मा 6/11/23 Ulta Chashmaa 10/11/23 10/11/23 NA NA
Amaar Sonar Bangla – অমর সোনার বাংলা 7/3/24 Ulta Chashmaa 12/3/24 13/3/24 Amaar Sonar Bangla – অমর সোনার বাংলা 11/4/24
Political X-Ray 7/12/23 Ulta Chashmaa 14/12/23 14/12/24 Political X Ray 5/2/24
MemeXpress 12/12/23 Ulta Chashmaa 12/12/23 12/12/23 Memes Xpress 5/2/24
Sidha Chashma – सीधा चश्मा 5/3/24 Sidha Chashma – सीधा चश्मा 12/3/24 17/3/24 Sidha Chashma – सीधा चश्मा 22/4/24
Tamilakam – தமிழகம் 9/2/24 Ulta Chashmaa 10/2/24 10/2/24 Tamilakam – தமிழகம் 26/3/24
Kannada Sangamam – ಕನ್ನಡ ಸಂಗಮ 9/2/24 Ulta Chashmaa 10/2/24 10/2/24 Kannada Sangamam – ಕನ್ನಡ ಸಂಗಮ 27/3/24
Aamcha Maharashtra – आमचा महाराष्ट्र 22/3/24 Ulta Chashmaa 11/4/24 18/4/24 NA NA
Telangana Central – తెలంగాణ సెంట్రల్ 9/2/24 Ulta Chashmaa 10/2/24 7/3/24 Telangana Central – తెలంగాణ సెంట్రల్ 27/3/24
Malabar Central – മലബാർ സെൻട്രൽ 9/2/24 Ulta Chashmaa 10/2/24 10/2/24 Malabar Central – മലബാർ സെൻട്രൽ 27/3/24
Sonar Bangla – সোনার বাংলা 29/2/24 Ulta Chashmaa 29/2/24 5/3/24 NA NA
Sidha Chashama 2.0 – सीधा चश्मा 2.0 7/3/24 Ulta Chashmaa 10/3/24 10/3/24 NA NA
Meme Hub 4/4/24 Memes Xpress 4/4/24 5/4/24 NA NA
Siyasat Di Baat – ਸਿਆਸਤ ਦੀ ਬਾਤ 9/5/24 Ulta Chashmaa 16/5/24 16/5/24 NA NA

All the pages listed above are connected to the ‘Ulta Chasmaa’ network. Mention of Ulta Chashmaa can be found in the disclaimers of all of these pages, except two: ‘Sidha Chashma’ and ‘Meme Hub’. Sidha Chashma has ‘Sidha Chashma’ and ‘Meme Hub’ has ‘Meme Xpress’ mentioned in their disclaimers. However, our investigation revealed that the email and mobile number of ‘Ulta Chashmaa’ were present in the details of the old disclaimer of the ‘Sidha Chashma’ page. As for ‘Meme Xpress’, we found that this page is connected to a page named ‘Meme Xpress’ of the ‘Ulta Chashmaa’ network and the details given in its disclaimer match the new disclaimer of ‘Meme Xpress’. Thus, all the pages are connected to ‘Ulta Chashma’.

Multiple Pages Using the Same Disclaimer

So it is clear that there is a loophole in Meta’s policy which allows page admins to use a disclaimer already approved on a page run by them for new pages. New pages in the proxy network take advantage of this and run political ads using the disclaimer of another page without proper disclosure. And when they become eligible to create disclaimers with ‘page name’ after 30 days as per Meta policy, they create disclaimers with their page name. This is a gaping loophole in Meta’s advertising system. There is no organization named ‘Ulta Chashmaa’ and neither is there any information related to it on its website. Neither is there any mention of such an organization on the website of the Union ministry of corporate affairs, nor is any information about it available publicly. Meta approved the disclaimer of ‘Ulta Chashmaa’ without proper disclosure of information and later, using the same disclaimer, proxy pages bypassed Meta’s policy and ran political advertisements before they were 30 days old.The disclaimer-sharing feature bypasses the policy that restricts political ads on pages which are less than 30 days old (approved via Page Name). While this might be seen as being provided for the convenience of page admins, it raises major transparency concerns. Meta’s Ad Library does not provide a database to establish connections between pages using the same disclaimer. This lack of transparency promotes misuse and makes it difficult for users to understand who is actually behind an ad, which is the basic concept of a disclaimer.

New pages in this network take advantage of pre-approved disclaimers, effectively bypassing the 30-day rule for verifying a disclaimer under the Page Name. For example, the Facebook page “MemeXpress” was created on December 12, 2023, had its disclaimer approved on the same day, and started running political ads immediately. This page managed to get a disclaimer approved before 30 days of its creation and spent Rs. 835,053 on political ads within that period, which garnered over 29,302,000 views.

Analysing these pages with this lens reveals a pattern of how they exploit Meta’s loophole to run ads before being up for 30 days. Here is a detailed chronology:

  1. New Page: A page named ‘Ulta Chashmaa’ was created on November 6, 2023.
  2. Violation/Meta Oversight: Despite this page’s disclaimer lacking proper disclosure, its disclaimer was approved by Meta on November 10, 2023.
  3. Ads: After verification, this page started running ads on Facebook and Instagram immediately, and according to Meta’s Ad Library, it spent Rs. 25,716,645 on over 1,200 ads, garnering over 697,530,000 views.
  4. Network of Connected Pages: Subsequently, many new pages were created in this network. Using the pre-approved “Ulta Chashmaa” disclaimer, several pages less than 30 days old ran political ads. For example, some pages listed in the table had disclaimers mentioning “Ulta Chashmaa.” These pages collectively spent over Rs. 104,558,946 on ads, garnering over 2,548,241,000 views.
  5. Change in Disclaimer After 30 Days: After 30 days, when these Pages became eligible under Meta’s policies to verify their own disclaimers, they applied for a new disclaimer using their Page name, which was approved by Meta.

For example, the first ‘Ulta Chashmaa’ disclaimer was created on November 10, 2023 by a page named ‘Ulta Chashma – उल्टा चस्मा’. Like other pages in this network, a page named ‘MemeXpress’ created on December 12, 2023, also used this disclaimer initially, as Meta’s policy does not allow disclaimers based on ‘page name’ within 30 days of a new page being created. This page started running political ads using the ‘Ulta Chashmaa’ disclaimer from the day it was created. This page then created a ‘Memes Xpress’ disclaimer in its name on February 5, 2024 (as Meta policy allows a new page to create a disclaimer in its name after 30 days of being created). Now comes the turn of the page named ‘Meme Hub’, which was created on April 4, 2024. This page also could not create a disclaimer based on the ‘page name’ for the first 30 days. Therefore, just a day after the creation of this page, it used the disclaimer of ‘Memes Xpress’ and got it approved from Meta and started running political advertisements.

The case of ‘Sidha Chashma – सीधा चश्मा’

One such page, ‘Sidha Chashma – सीधा चश्मा,’ was created on March 5 of this year. Shortly afterwards, on March 12, this page applied for a disclaimer to run political ads. Notably, this page used the ‘Page Name’ option, under which, according to Meta’s policy, disclaimers for pages fewer than 30 days old should not be verified. However, Facebook approved this disclaimer, allowing the page to run ads targeting opposition parties and leaders. Later, Meta took action on April 19, declaring this disclaimer against its policy and took down all previously run ads (a technically ineffective move as the ads had already been run by then). By then, this page had spent over Rs. 3,811,889 on political ads, which garnered over 79,025,000 views.

This page is also part of the “Ulta Chashmaa” proxy page syndicate, as the mobile number and email used in its initial disclaimer match the details present in Meta’s Ad Library for “Ulta Chashmaa.”

Meta’s failure to detect these violations allowed numerous pages to run ads against policy, garnering over 254,82,41,000 views (over 254 crore views). These ads promoted the ruling party BJP’s propaganda and targeted opposition parties and leaders with crude memes, misinformation, and communal content.

‘MemeXpress’ & ‘Political X-Ray’

Two pages in this network violated Meta’s advertising standards with their ad accounts. Consequently, the ad accounts running ads for the pages “MemeXpress” and “Political X-Ray” were disabled on January 12 and January 13, respectively. The Ad Library now displays a notice on these ads stating, “This ad was run by an account that we later disabled for not following our Advertising Standards.” However, no action was taken against these pages, and they continued to run ads. By the time these ad accounts were disabled, the two pages had already spent approximately Rs. 2,830,007 on political ads, which garnered around 71,552,000 views.

These pages named ‘MemeXpress’ and ‘Political X-Ray’ first ran political advertisements using the ‘Ulta Chashmaa’ disclaimer, but later they got their disclaimers approved in the name of Memes Xpress and Political X Ray . While there is no information on these pages or their websites about their being an entity by these names, the phone numbers mentioned in their disclaimers are also constantly unavailable. The websites of both these pages had been registered on January 2, 2024, just a few days before Meta approved their new disclaimers.

Money Spent by These Pages

Below is a table detailing the money spent by the pages in this network and the views their ads received. The data is sourced from the ad library of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.

*This data was retrieved from Meta’s Ad Library web pages between May 29, 2024, and May 31, 2024. The current ad spend amount may be higher.

**In many instances, Meta’s Ad Library provides only the lower bound data for impressions; therefore, the table reflects the lower bound data for impressions, and actual ad impressions may be higher.

Page Name Ad Spend (INR) Ad Impressions (Lower Bound)
Ulta Chashma – उल्टा चस्मा 25716645* 697530000**
Amaar Sonar Bangla – অমর সোনার বাংলা 9244211* 230004000**
Political X-Ray 18915068* 421143000**
MemeXpress 17593449* 378587000**
Sidha Chashma – सीधा चश्मा 7892238* 160525000**
Tamilakam – தமிழகம் 8603334* 194615000**
Kannada Sangamam – ಕನ್ನಡ ಸಂಗಮ 2146567* 72535000**
Aamcha Maharashtra – आमचा महाराष्ट्र 1125457* 44284000**
Telangana Central – తెలంగాణ సెంట్రల్ 2026047* 41882000**
Malabar Central – മലബാർ സെൻട്രൽ 2317852* 65737000**
Sonar Bangla – সোনার বাংলা 327887* 5420000**
Sidha Chashama 2.0 – सीधा चश्मा 2.0 700327* 32424000**
Meme Hub 7867870* 191130000**
Siyasat Di Baat – ਸਿਆਸਤ ਦੀ ਬਾਤ 81994* 12425000**
Total 104558946* 2548241000**

The most crucial revelation from the present investigation by Alt News into Meta’s Ad Library indicates that it is part of Meta’s business model to ignore pages violating their policies. As far as the removal of such ads are concerned, it is often done after they have been run and have garnered millions of views. This makes pulling them down and masking them in the Ad Library meaningless.

Alt News has shared a copy of all this information regarding the proxy network and Meta’s policy violations to Meta on May 29. In response, they asked us for the links to these pages, which we provided the same day. We received a reply from Meta on June 5, in which they said that after investigation it had been found that the disclaimer given on the pages we had marked did not violate Meta’s disclosure policy.

(All data in this story has been sourced from Meta Ad Library.)

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About the Author

Abhishek is a senior fact-checking journalist and researcher at Alt News. He has a keen interest in information verification and technology. He is always eager to learn new skills, explore new OSINT tools and techniques. Prior to joining Alt News, he worked in the field of content development and analysis with a major focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).