Facebook offered cheaper ad deals to BJP than rivals during elections, says report

A file photo of BJP supporters during election rally.

Facebook’s algorithm has offered cheaper advertisement deals to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as compared to other political parties of the country during the election process, Aljazeera reported.

Facebook promoted the party’s advertisements at 29% less price than the amount paid by its arch-rival Congress during 10 elections between February 2019 and November 2020 (22 months), allowing it to reach a wider audience than opposition parties.

Part three of a year-long investigation conducted by Kumar Sambhav of The Reporters’ Collective (TRC) and Nayantara Ranganathan of, a research project that studies political ads on social media, and published by Al Jazeera has revealed that Facebook showed a BJP ad on average one million times but charged only Rs 41, 844 from the party, its candidates and affiliated organizations.

On the other hand, the report discovered that the social media giant charged Congress, its candidates, and affiliated organizations Rs 53,776 on average to show one ad for the same number of times.

During the three-month campaign for Assembly polls in Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh before the General Elections in 2019, the BJP and its candidates were charged Rs 61,584 on average for an ad with 1 million views compared to Rs 66,250 paid by the Congress.

Facebook gave a similar unfair advantage to the BJP in the Haryana and Jharkhand elections later that year, the report stated.

In the 2020 Delhi elections campaign, the Aam Aadmi Party paid the highest amount of Rs 64,174 for one ad, followed by the Congress at Rs 39,909 and the BJP the least at Rs 35,596.

Similarly, in the 2020 Bihar elections, the BJP’s main regional ally Janata Dal (United) shelled out the highest amount of Rs 66,704 per million views, followed by the Congress at Rs 45,207 and the saffron party again the least at Rs 37,285, according to the investigation.

Only in one out of the 10 elections, the Congress got a better deal when it paid Rs 38,124 compared to the BJP’s Rs 43,482 in Maharashtra.

The first part of the investigation found that Facebook carried 718 surrogate political ads of Reliance Jio-funded New Emerging World of Journalism Limited promoting the BJP and denigrating its rivals costing Rs 52,00,000 that were viewed more than 290 million times in those 22 months.

The second part of the investigation discovered that, at least, 23 ghost and surrogate advertisers paid more than Rs 5.8 crore to Facebook to run 34,884 ads either to promote the BJP or criticise/lampoon the Opposition that garnered a staggering 1.31 billion views in the 22 months across 10 elections, including in Delhi, Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar and Haryana.

Both the reports, written after an analysis of the 536,070 political advertisements published on Facebook and Instagram accessed through Facebook’s Ad Library Application Programming Interface (API) by TRC and, were published on Al Jazeera.

The BJP and its affiliated organisations officially spent a whopping Rs 10-plus crore on 26,291 Facebook advertisements compared to around Rs 6 core spent by the Congress and its affiliates in the same period, the third part of the investigation revealed—but the saffron party had to pay around Rs 1 crore less than the Grand Old Party of India.

Facebook’s advantage provided to the BJP over its rivals grew bigger considering the ghost or surrogate advertisers promoting the party and criticising the Opposition. On average, Facebook charged a BJP promoter Rs 39,552 for one million views for an ad as against Rs 52,150 from the Congress, around 32% more.

Pertinently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) bars ghost or surrogate advertisements that favour a political candidate in print and electronic media. Even a payment by a third party with no links to a candidate on such ads is considered as the contestant’s spending—including paid promotions camouflaged as news.

The ECI exempts digital platforms, which have a wider reach than print and electronic media, from this ban. The ECI did not respond to TRC’s questions despite repeated reminders.

“Any evidence of significant price distortion in campaign expenses is an appropriate subject for the ECI to investigate and warrants a serious conversation with Mr Nick Clegg [UK’s former deputy Prime Minister who now serves as the vice-president of Global Affairs and Communications at Meta] and other tech giants,” said Mishi Choudhary, technology lawyer and legal director at the Software Freedom Law Centre, New York.

“A Model Code of Conduct is only worth anything if it’s enforced impartially irrespective of the ruling party in power,” Al Jazeera quoted Choudhary as saying.


Free Press Kashmir is now on Telegram. Click here to Join.
FPK Android App for 2G. Click here to Download.

Click to comment
To Top