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Facebook allowed ghost advertisers to fund BJP campaign

New Delhi, India – Facebook allowed a large number of ghost and surrogate advertisers to secretly fund the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election campaign in India and boost the governing party’s visibility, according to an analysis of advertisements placed on the social media platform across 22 months and 10 elections.

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Advertisers either hid their identities or their connections with the BJP, even as they paid tens of millions of rupees to Facebook, mostly to show advertisements that promoted India’s ruling party and its leaders. These ghost and surrogate advertisers got almost as many views as the advertisements officially placed by India’s governing party, doubling its visibility without the party having to take responsibility for the content or the expenditure related to their advertisements.

The Reporters’ Collective (TRC), a non-profit media organisation based in India, and ad.watch, a research project studying political advertisements on social media, mapped all the advertisers that have spent more than 500,000 rupees ($6,529) on political advertisements on Facebook between February 2019 and November 2020, using the Ad Library’s Application Programming Interface (API), Meta’s “transparency” tool that allows access to political advertising data across its platforms. Apart from the parliamentary elections, this period saw assembly elections in several states, including Delhi, Odisha, Bihar, Haryana and Maharashtra.

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TRC found the BJP and its candidates officially placed 26,291 advertisements by spending at least 104 million rupees ($1.36m), for which they got more than 1.36 billion views on Facebook. That apart, at least 23 ghost and surrogate advertisers also placed 34,884 advertisements for which they paid Facebook more than 58.3 million rupees ($761,246), mostly to promote the BJP or denigrate its opposition, without disclosing their real identities or their affiliation with the party. These advertisements got more than a whopping 1.31 billion views.

Inside Facebook and BJP’s world of ghost advertisers  Al Jazeera English

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