BJP suffers huge loss in Facebook’s purge before polls

Facebook said all the accounts were removed not for political content but “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, meaning these were fake accounts used to mislead and manipulate people. 

A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display in this illustration.
Image Credit: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

New Delhi: The clean-up drive by social media giant Facebook ahead of the national elections which involved the removal of nearly 700 pages and accounts appears to have proved more expensive for the BJP than the Congress.
The social media site’s announcement yesterday (April 01) that it had taken down Indian accounts engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour,” and the ensuing media coverage, suggested that the development had a lopsided effect on the Indian National Congress.
Of the over 700 political pages and accounts that Facebook said it had removed, 687 were linked to the main opposition party, while only 15 were associated with prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Reports, though, say that the number of BJP-linked pages taken down could be over 200, even if not specified directly in Facebook’s blog post.
Sources claim that the purge has been more damaging to the BJP.

Quartz reported that the 15 pro-BJP pages removed were all linked to Silver Touch, an Ahmedabad-based IT firm that has reportedly developed Modi’s official app, besides working on several government projects. While Facebook named only one page in this group—The India Eye—it alone had over 2.5 million followers and was well established, included in every user’s default news feed in the NaMo app.
“The pro-BJP campaign was big and long-lasting. It picked up over 2 million followers, and managed to stay below the radar for years,” Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFR Lab), who has researched the data extensively, told Quartz.
Multiple sources say these 200 pages were almost entirely Right-wing, pro-BJP pages.
ThePrint spoke to three different individuals whose pages have been affected. They were running Right-wing, pro-BJP, pro-Hindutva pages. All three claimed they do not have any formal association with the BJP or the government. Two of them separately estimated that the total reach of their pro-BJP pages has been reduced by 200 million or 20 crore users. In contrast, 680 pages or groups run by the Gujarat Congress IT cell were removed — their total following was limited to 200,000 users.
An individual affected by the “civic spam” takedowns, who didn’t want to be named, said the action has caused him a loss of crores of rupees. “It takes 20 to 50 lakhs of ad spend to earn 1 lakh likes. It will take me Rs 2 crore to create such an audience base again,” he told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
Congress said that none of the party’s verified Facebook accounts had been removed by the social media giant. “No official pages run by INC have been taken down,” the Congress tweeted on its official handle. “Additionally, all pages run by our verified volunteers are also unaffected. In the meantime, we are awaiting a response from Facebook to provide us a list of all pages/accounts that they have taken down.”

More money was spent on the pro BJP pages that were taken down. While the pro-Congress pages involved an expenditure of $39,000 (close to 27 lakhs) in spending on Facebook ads since August 2014, the corresponding amount for the pro-BJP pages were $70,000 (close to 50 lakhs).
“Around $70,000 USD in spending for ads on Facebook, paid for in Indian rupees. The first ad ran in June 2014 and the most recent ad ran in Feb 2019,” Facebook said.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that this activity was linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch,” Facebook said. They were using both authentic and fake accounts to share content about “local news and political events”. There were posts on government action, “the upcoming elections, the BJP and alleged misconduct of political opponents, including the INC,” Facebook said.
Facebook said all the accounts were removed not for political content but “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, meaning these were fake accounts used to mislead and manipulate people.
The move was part of Facebook’s efforts to stop the spread of misinformation especially ahead of the elections. Along with WhatsApp, Facebook has been under government pressure to stop the spread of fake news and anything that might influence the country’s electoral process.



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