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News

Islamophobic Ads Flood Meta Platforms In The Middle Of Indian Elections

Islamophobic dog-whistles and memes were found being shared on surrogate pages that targeted BJP's opponents, congruent with the narrative shared by the party's top leaders.

By - Archis Chowdhury | 9 May 2024 4:02 AM GMT

With the 18th Lok Sabha elections in full flow, the gloves are off for political parties, as they pour in massive amounts of money on social media advertisements. Meanwhile, content portraying Islamophobic dog whistles and memes were found being shared on surrogate pages that targeted the opponents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Looking through Meta's Ad Library Report for April 2024, BOOM found BJP pages spending over a whopping ₹10 crore, while the Indian National Congress trailed behind at ₹6.5 crore. The other two parties to cross the 1 crore mark were Tamil Nadu's Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) with an expenditure of over ₹2.8 crore, and Odisha's Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with an expenditure of ₹1.2 crore.

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Bengal's Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Andhra Pradesh's Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) spent close to a crore last month, with their overall expenditure coming to ₹87 lakh, and ₹82 lakh, respectively.

The numbers were a lot higher on Google ads. According to Google's Ad Transparency Centre, Congress was the highest spender on political ads with an expenditure of ₹26.6 crore, with BJP trailing at ₹21.3 crore. DMK followed with ₹13.8 crore worth of ad expenditure in April.

Other parties to cross the ₹1 crore mark were  regional parties YSRCP (₹5.03 crore), TDP (₹2.29 crore), BJD (₹2.14 crore), and political consultancy firm IPAC (₹1.79 crore).

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Islamophobia In Facebook Surrogate Ads

Last month, BOOM reported on how obscure pages containing surrogate ads targeted BJP opponents with ads to the tune of ₹3.7 crore in March. In April, the overall expenditure in such pages grew to over ₹4.4 crore, with increasing frequency of Islamophobic content featuring in such pages.

Following BOOM's report, a source at Meta told us that the page MemeXpress, that spent ₹1.1 crore on Facebook ads in March, was banned from posting ads. However, we found another page Meme Hub being created immediately, that spent ₹72 lakh on Facebook ads in April, despite having just 1100 followers and 781 likes. 

After an inflammatory animated post made by BJP Karnataka's official handle on X, which showed Muslims replacing other OBC/SC/ST communities with the help of Congress, Karnataka Police sent a notice to the microblogging platform on May 5, directing it to remove the post for violating the Representation of People Act.

According to a report by Hindustan Times, the notice read, “Further your attention is drawn towards the e-mail communication of Election Commission [dated May 5, 2024]… Election Commission has directed to remove the alleged content from internet as it violates Model Code of Conduct (MCC) enforced during Lok Sabha Elections 2024."

Furthermore, BJP's official Instagram had also posted another animated video, which portrayed Muslims as invaders, and put forth BJP's narrative that Congress intends to take the wealth of Hindus and distribute it to Muslims. The post was later deleted.

Looking through the ads on Meme Hub, and the other surrogate pages, we found several ads that alluded to the Congress being anti-Hindu, and pro-Muslim, which was congruent with the narrative shared by BJP's official handles, along with top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi

One such ad included a Venn diagram to purport that the Congress manifesto primarily benefits Muslims.


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Hindu-Muslim polarisation, and Islamophobia were found to be recurring themes in many of these pages, with ads showing BJP opponents being bad for Hindus, and good for Muslims.

We also found frequent use of Islamophobic tropes and dog-whistles, to downright hate content being peddled in these pages.

Several ads were found claiming that Congress has a strong preference for Muslims, as compared to other SC/ST/OBC communities. Click here, here and here to view such ads shared on the pages Political X-Ray, Sidha Chashma - सीधा चश्मा, and Amaar Sonar Bangla - অমর সোনার বাংলা.

The page 'Sidha Chashma - सीधा चश्मा' bears close resemblance to another similar page named 'Ulta Chashma - उल्टा चस्मा', that was previously flagged by BOOM as being part of a network of surrogate pages that ran ads containing inflammatory content and disinformation targeting Muslims. Political X-Ray, Tamilakam, Kannada Sangamam, and the now-deleted page Sonar Bangla were found to be part of the same network, that was found to have spent over ₹2 crore on political ads between November to March.

The page Amaar Sonar Bangla - অমর সোনার বাংলা was also found sponsoring an ad that contained disinformation targeting TMC leader Mahua Moitra. The ad falsely claimed that when asked by journalists on what her source of energy is, she answered with "sex". BOOM had fact-checked this claim, and found that she had responded with "eggs".

This page also promoted an Islamophobic ad that claimed that Bengali Muslims are trying to turn West Bengal into Bangladesh.

An ad posted by Sidha Chashma - सीधा चश्मा referred to Muslims and "Abdullahs", while claiming that Congress will give OBC/ST/SC reservations to Muslims.

Yet another ad by the the page Mudde ki Baat - मुद्दे की बात contained a scripted video that showed Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh coming to claim possessions owned by Hindus in India, with the help of Congress. The same video was also promoted as ad by Sidha Chashma - सीधा चश्मा.

An Instagram page named Hokage Modi Sama also posted an ad containing the claim of Congress giving away half of the wealth of Hindus to Muslims.

An investigation by Decode found that Hokage Modi Sama is a part of a network of surrogate or proxy pages run by a political consultancy firm called Varahe Analytics, that has been hired by the BJP.

BOOM has reached out to Meta, and the article will be updated if and when we receive a response.