“Ads related to politics and issues of national importance that have run on Facebook or Instagram” amounted to Rs 2.5 crore between March 2 and 16, revealed Alt News’s weekly analysis of Facebook ad library data.

Out of this total expenditure, the top 20 pages alone contributed more than Rs 1.9 crore, with pro-BJP pages investing over Rs 1.5 crore. A distant second was pro-BJD ads at Rs 15.2 lakh, followed by pro-YSR Congress ads (Rs 12.7 lakh), ads by the Karnataka government (Rs 5 lakh) and pro-Congress pages (Rs 1.68 lakh).

The table below shows the expenditure by the top 20 pages between March 2 to 16. This is reflected in Column C, which is the difference between total expenditure till March 16 (Column D) and total expenditure up to March 2 (Column E).

Among the highest spenders, the Facebook page dedicated to BJP’s election campaign ‘Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat’ invested the maximum – Rs 87.3 lakh. The second in line was a pro-BJP page ‘Nation with NaMo’ with an expenditure of over Rs 43 lakh. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was placed third with a total ad spending of Rs 15.2 lakh between March 2 to 16. At the fourth place was pro-YSR Congress advertisements by ‘Indian Political Action Committee’, amounting to nearly Rs 13 lakh, up from Rs 53,992 two weeks earlier. I-PAC is a political advocacy group that provides strategies for election campaigns. Placing fifth was the central government page ‘MyGov India’ that spent over Rs 8.3 lakh.

‘My First Vote For Modi’

At the 6th place among the top 20 advertisers was a Facebook page named ‘My First Vote For Modi’ which spent a little over Rs 11,000 till March 2, however, pumped-up the expenditure to nearly Rs 7.5 lakh in just two weeks (Column D).

‘My First Vote For Modi’ is a recently-developed Facebook page. It was introduced in January this year and has only 45,000 followers, yet the page invested more on political ads than the BJP’s official page. As seen in Column E of the table, the BJP’s official Facebook page spent Rs 6.6 lakh on political ads till March 2 – a figure that remained constant till March 16 (Column D).

Registered to BJP headquarters?

Upon accessing the ad library data of ‘My First Vote For Modi’, Alt News found that the address of BJP headquarters in Delhi – ‘6-A, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, Near ITO, Minto Bridge Colony, Barakhamba, New Delhi 110002′ – is provided in the disclaimer information of the page.

Another aspect that came to our notice was the page’s corresponding website – https://nationwithnamo.com/MyFirstVoteForModi.

Nation with NaMo’

‘Nation with NaMo’ is also a pro-BJP Facebook page that made higher investments on political ads than the BJP’s official Facebook page – Rs 43 lakh – and stood second only to ‘Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat’.

Incidentally, ‘Nation with NaMo’ also provides the address of BJP headquarters in the disclaimer information.

In the past, Alt News had found ‘Nation with NaMo’ circulating misinformation to depict positive changes brought about by the Modi government since it came to power in 2014. The page had also put out job applications last year, calling IIT and IIM graduates to drive Prime Minister Modi’s campaign.

Is Facebook’s ad library data providing the needed transparency?

Facebook’s ad policies require pages to reveal advertiser details in case they are sponsoring ads related to politics, yet the two pages discussed in this report provided names of websites as ‘disclaimer’. A website is not an individual and it is nearly impossible for social media users to trace the people behind it.

Summarily, the disclaimer information does not necessarily disclose the names of the individuals or organisations pumping lakhs of money to shape public opinion online.

Users also cannot rely on the contact information provided by these pages. The phone numbers given by ‘My First Vote For Modi’ and ‘Nation With NaMo’ are 6372802105 and 6372802059 respectively. Apart from the last three digits, the numbers match. Searching for both the numbers on Treucaller throws up the identical result – “not yet available”. Calling up the numbers is also fruitless because both are switched off.

The sole lead that we have is the address provided by the pages, which matches BJP headquarters in Delhi. This raises two pertinent questions – one, does the BJP fund these pages to sponsor political ads favouring the party?; two, if the BJP is, in fact, responsible, has the investment been disclosed to the Election Commission?

UPDATE: Some of the figures in an earlier version of the article were incorrect, and have now been corrected.

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About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.