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Meta Approves Ads Inciting Hate Against Indian Muslims During Elections: Report

The report says 14 out of 22 ads were approved by Meta within 24 hours breaking its policies on hate speech, bullying and harassment, misinformation, and violence and incitement.

Waquar Hasan | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – Social media giant Meta approved advertisements inciting hatred and violence against Muslims and spreading Islamophobia on Facebook and Instagram during the silence period of the ongoing elections in India, revealed a report.

The report, prepared by global corporate accountability group Ekō, in collaboration with India Civil Watch International, was released on Monday. It said that between May 8th and May 13th, Meta approved 14 highly inflammatory ads which called for violent uprisings targeting Muslim minorities, disseminated blatant disinformation exploiting communal or religious conspiracy theories prevalent in India’s political landscape, and incited violence through Hindu supremacist narratives.

“Accompanying each ad text were manipulated images generated by AI image tools, proving how quickly and easily this new technology can be deployed to amplify harmful content. Meta’s systems did not block researchers from posting political and incendiary ads during the election “silence period”. The process of setting up the Facebook accounts was extremely simple and researchers were able to post these ads from outside of India,” observed the report titled “As India Election Underway, Meta Approves Series of Violent, Inflammatory, Islamophobic AI-generated Ads Targeting Voters”.

The researchers found that 14 out of 22 ads were approved by Meta within 24 hours breaking its policies on hate speech, bullying and harassment, misinformation, and violence and incitement.

The report noted that several ads targeted opposition parties with messaging on their alleged Muslim “favouritism”. Other ads played on fears of India being swarmed by Muslim “invaders”, a popular dog whistle targeting Indian Muslims.

With one ad claiming that Muslims attacked India’s Ram temple and that Muslims must be burned, two other ads pushed a ‘stop the steal’ narrative, claiming electronic voting machines were being destroyed, followed by calls for a violent uprising.

Multiple ads used Hindu supremacist language to vilify Muslims, going further with calls for burning Muslims. One ad called for the execution of a prominent lawmaker claiming his allegiance to Pakistan. One ad used a conspiracy theory made popular by BJP’s rival parties about a lawmaker removing affirmative action policies for oppressed caste groups. Each ad was accompanied by a manipulated image created with widely used AI image tools Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and Dall-e.

“Despite ample evidence of systemic failures and tangible harms documented over the years, Meta has failed to implement substantial corrective measures. Ads containing highly inflammatory hate speech, violent rhetoric, and disinformation continue to pass through its approval system. Despite Meta’s claims of prioritising the detection, labelling, and removal of violative AI-generated content, this investigation indicates otherwise,” asserted the report.

In response to these findings, a Meta spokesperson told the civil advocacy groups: “I would like to begin by requesting that you share with us details on any content, paid or otherwise, that you believe may be in violation of our hate speech, violence and incitement, misinformation or other policies. We will investigate and take appropriate action against any policy-violating content that you bring to our attention”.

In light of these findings, the civil rights groups urged that Meta must adopt an election silence period, ensure transparency by vetting who they are receiving money from, ban shadow advertisers, ensure that dehumanising, caricaturing, demonising of minorities in India is checked and restricted in line with the platform’s hate speech policy.

The report also recommended ensuring fact-checked information is correctly labelled and or removed in all languages, proactive action to restrict re-spawning disinformation and hate speech pages and profiles and removing the political exemption on hate speech and viral disinformation.

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