FB Carries Ads Laden with Hate Speech Sponsored by Pro-BJP Accounts: Rights Groups

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The advertisements carry Islamophobic tropes and disinformation targeting Muslims, depicting them as sexually violent invaders, “instigating communal riots”, and “patrons of terror”.

Waquar Hasan | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Social Media company Meta has carried advertisements laden with hate speeches, misinformation and Islamophobia sponsored by pro-Bharatiya Janata Party pages on Facebook, revealed a report by three human rights advocacy groups.

Such ads are being carried even during the period when the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is in force given the current Lok Sabha elections suggesting the potential violation of Indian laws.

The report “Slander, Lies, and Incitement: India’s Million Dollar Election Meme Network” by three human rights advocacy groups based in the US and the Netherlands was released last week. The groups are Foundation the London Story (TLS), Eko and India Civil Watch International (ICWI).

According to the report, these advertisements carry Islamophobic tropes and disinformation targeting Muslims, depicting them as sexually violent invaders, “instigating communal riots”, and “patrons of terror”.

They also push Hindu supremacist narratives: ads promoting narratives to recreate India into a Hindu nation and claiming “Hindustan is a country for Hindus” as well as hashtags tied to Hindu supremacist groups, aggressive and violent rhetoric against the BJP opposition: referring to opponents as a “virus” that needs to be eradicated and that a BJP candidate will “break their [DMK] spine.” Opposition parties or leaders were branded as “demons,” and “poisonous snakes”.

The ads target women lawmakers, journalists, and activists as “anti-India”.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her government, Samajwadi Party and its leaders Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi, DMK, Shiv Sena (UTB) chief Uddhav Thackery, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani and Muslim leader Tauqeer Raza Khan are among the people who were targeted through these advertisements.

The report found that a million US dollars were spent by 22 far-right shadow advertisers over 90 days on Meta, accounting for nearly 22% of the total sum of “issues, elections or politics” advertisements in India across the same period. There are 36 ads potentially in clear violation of Indian election laws pushing hate speech, Islamophobia, communal violence, and misinformation amassing between 65-66m impressions.

“The researchers uncovered a coordinated network led by a public page named Ulta Chashma, which has nine other pages sharing content, hashtags, and ad payments. This network amassed 10.53m interactions and 34.64m video views within 90 days, with a loophole allowing early political ad postings, indicating a breach of Meta’s ad transparency policy 

None of the far-right publishers analysed in the report responded on the phone numbers provided as disclaimers in Meta’s ad library,” noted the report.

Dr. Ritumbra Manuvie, Executive Director of Foundation the Landon Story, said this isn’t the first time they have sounded the alarm bells – but stakes are higher than ever this time, just ahead of elections!

“Meta is again serving as a megaphone of hate in India, with bad actors spending huge sums of money to distort election narratives. While Meta reaps the profits, decades of work from civil society to support Indian democracy face upheaval,” said Manuvie.

In a statement, the Eko said “This is another disinformation nightmare fuelled by a platform which operates with a mercenary mindset – allowing the highest bidder to weaponise its platform for hate. This is a direct challenge to Indian democracy and a chilling preview for upcoming elections”.

The group has called on Meta to immediately implement the recommendations of 30+ civil society groups to enforce an election silence period and ban all political ads 48 hours before elections as per Indian law.

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