Ahead of High Stake Elections, BJP Backers Put Half of the Total Political Ads on Facebook Since February
With less than 50 days to go before the country goes for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the amount being spent on advertising by the Bharatiya Janata Party and pro-BJP advertisers exceeds crores of rupees on the social media giant, Facebook.
Representative Image. (Reuters)
New Delhi: Money matters in Indian elections. Lots of money. And in the increasingly high stakes that are at play in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, expect this money to be spent on aggressive social media advertisement campaigns.
With less than 50 days to go before the country goes for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the amount being spent on advertising by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and pro-BJP advertisers exceeds crores of rupees on the social media giant, Facebook. This was found out after Facebook released its Ad Archive Report for India, which includes ads related to politics and issues of national importance that have run on the social media platform.
In its Ad Library, Facebook has a total of 16,556 ads reported till March 4 this year that are “related to politics and issues of national importance” in India. The total amount spent on these ads is Rs 4,13,88,087.
The Ad Library Report shows that the BJP has been the heaviest advertiser on the platform since February 2 and that most of the ads were funded by ghost advertisers which ran advertisements without any proper disclaimer.
According to Facebook, ads that run without a disclaimer are to be categorised as: “When an advertiser categorises their ad as being related to politics or an issue of national importance, they are required to disclose who paid for the ad [emphasis added]. If an ad runs without a disclaimer, this field will say, ‘These ads ran without a disclaimer,’ meaning that after the ad started running, Facebook determined it was related to politics and issues of national importance and hence, required the label. The ad is then taken down.”
According to the News18.com study of the data provided by the Facebook, pro-BJP page, “Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat”, alone spent over Rs 1 crore for political ads on the social networking platform last month. The amount of money spent on these advertisements were not necessarily paid by the party but by its supporters.
From February 2019 to March 2, 2019, the page “Bharat Ki Mann Ki Baat” spent Rs 1,01,60,240 on advertising 1,168 different ads across Facebook and Instagram. In second place is a page called “Nation with NaMo”, which has spent Rs 52,24,296 during the same month with 631 ads. “MyGov India” is at the third place with Rs 25,27,349 being spent on advertising 114 ads.
However, the most startling fact from the study is that some of the ads that ran with this disclaimer also spend hefty amounts of money on advertising. And as the disclaimer goes, there is no way to know who paid for these ads.
For example, another page “Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat”—there are two pages with the same name—ran its ads with such a disclaimer came. From February 2019 to March 2, 2019, it spent a total of Rs 18,47,555 on the advertising of 388 ads. Another page, “Nation with NaMo”—this page also has two namesakes—ran 443 ads with such a disclaimer. It spent Rs 11,86,079 on advertising. Both these pages ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in terms of spendings on advertisements.
Interestingly, the BJP itself—under its own official page name, ”Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)”—spent way lesser than these pro-BJP pages. The official page of the party spent Rs 6,60,404 on advertising of just two advertisements with a disclaimer from February 2019 to March 2, 2019.
Compared to this, the pro-Congress pages spend was lesser amounts with the highest being about just Rs 48,000. Pages like ‘Im with Congress’, ‘Congress Party admirers forum’ and ‘Vote for Congress’ spend a meagre amount of Rs 684, Rs 535 and Rs 490, respectively, during the February to March 2 period.
Some of the other pro-BJP pages that ran ghost advertisements were pages like “NaMo Merchandise” and “Amit Shah”. In the last month, the money spent on advertisements on these two pages was Rs 2,12,071 and Rs 3,17,852, respectively.
However, the most important part about these ghost advertisements, after analyzing the data, reveals that the money spent by these ghost advertisers were increasing as the Lok Sabha elections are coming nearer.
For example, from February 2019 to March 2, 2019, pages like “Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat”, “Nation with NaMo” and “MyGov India”—the top three pages with most number of ads and money spent on them—ran their ads with a disclaimer, which means they were willing to disclose who paid for the ads. The money that these pages spent on advertisements during this period amounts to Rs 18,47,555, Rs 11,86,079 and Rs 9,13,786, respectively. However, a page like “Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat”—run by a ghost advertisement—spent almost five times more (Rs 1,01,60,240) than these pages for advertisements.
In fact, from February 24 to March 2, this page spent a whopping Rs 20,16,692 on advertisements, which is more than the individual spendings of the three pages that were willing to disclose who paid for their ads.
While regional parties spent just around Rs 20 lakh on Facebook, the Congress Party and its backers spent just around Rs 10 lakh for political ads on Facebook during the same period. This is twenty times less money spent in comparison to the money spent by the pro-BJP pages.
However, among the regional parties, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the YSR Congress (YSR-c) emerged as some of the top spenders on political ads on Facebook,
The Facebook ad report consists of a weekly summary of the Ad Library and includes data on ads that have been viewed by people in India for a specified time period—from February 2019 to March 2. Its aim is to “increase transparency in advertising,” about the ads people see and the advertisers who are funding them.
Facebook, which has over 200 million users in India, has stated that it is committed to creating a new standard of transparency and authenticity for political advertising on its platform and Instagram.
In 2014, BJP’s total expenditure on election campaigning was Rs 712.47 crore. The party had spent Rs 304,50,38,995 crore on media advertisement, with includes social media ads also. In comparison, the Congress’s total expenditure on election campaigning was Rs 486.21 crore. The money it spent on media advertisement, includungsocial media ads, was Rs 231,24,92,018 crore.
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