Facebook pages run by Trinamool Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party spent more than ₹ 2.42 crore on political ads on the platform in the past 90 days, just months ahead of the elections in the state.
Furthermore, an amount of ₹ 54.7 lakh was spent on slanderous ads by dubious pages with no clear affiliation to any specific party, which targeted either BJP or TMC leaders. These pages had provided contact details that were unreachable, along with dubious postal addresses.
BOOM looked through the top 15 pages linked to the Bengal elections (spending over ₹ 1 lakh) and accessed the spending details for ads spent between November 21, 2020 and February 18, 2021 on Facebook's ad library report, and found some interesting trends.
TMC Outspends BJP
The last time BJP was pitted against TMC, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ruling party at Centre far outspent the ruling party in West Bengal. However, ahead of the state elections, a closer look at their expenditure points to the opposite trend.
TMC-backed page 'Banglar Gorbo Mamata', with 27 lakh followers, was the highest spender with an expenditure of ₹ 99.3 lakh. According to the advertiser's details provided, the ads were posted by political consultancy firm Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), who is currently in charge of running TMC's campaign.
Another ₹ 7.46 lakh was spent by the incumbent party, promoting posts by its official Facebook page, and that of TMC leader and party supremo Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
TMC had another page running called 'Drishtibhongi দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি' which had promoted ads worth ₹ 1.75 lakh in this time period, bringing the overall expenditure by the party to ₹1.09 crore and that is just among the top 15 pages).
BJP's contribution to promoting ads on the list of Facebook pages linked to the the upcoming polls in the state was at ₹ 73.6 lakh in the past 90 days, in the list of the top spenders.
Its highest spending pages were Amar Poribar BJP Poribar (My family is a BJP family) and Aar Noi Annay (no more injustice) - which spent ₹ 32.9 lakh and ₹ 30.4 lakh, respectively. It also ran ads on two other pages - one named Modipara and BJP West Bengal's official Facebook page, spending around ₹ 4.75 lakh and ₹ 3.34 lakh, respectively.
At the end of the list are two BJP-linked pages named চুপচাপ কমল ছাপ (roughly translates to 'Be calm and vote lotus - BJP's symbol) and the official page of former TMC leader Rajib Banerjee - who recently quit the party to join BJP. These pages spent ₹ 1.27 lakh and ₹ 1 lakh, respectively.
Among the list of pages spending more than ₹ 1 lakh were Youth in Politics, and Team PK - two pages run by IPAC itself, shelling out ₹ 2.22 lakh and 2.11, respectively
We also found three pages running slander campaigns against either TMC or BJP, without any clear link to a political party, that had spent an overall amount of ₹ 54.7 lakh in the past 90 days.
Among them, the highest spender is a page named 'Khotikarok Modi' (translates to 'Harmful Modi'), that runs smear campaigns against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. This page had spent a considerable amount of ₹ 51.1 lakh in the past 90 days, and is the second highest spender in the entire list, after 'Banglar Gorbo Mamata'.
The two other pages are Nirmamata and The Frustrated Bengali, spending ₹ 1.93 lakh and ₹ 1.65 lakh, respectively, and targeting West Bengal's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and her party TMC.
Overall, the pages targeting the BJP spent around 14 times more than the pages targeting TMC. Neither of these pages provided details that could be linked to either BJP or TMC in anyway. Furthermore, they have provided contact details there were unreachable.
BJP and TMC are pitted in a bitter political battle early this year in the upcoming legislative elections in West Bengal. The last time both the parties faced off against the other, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP made a sweeping gain of 16 parliamentary seats, going from 2 to 18, while the TMC lost 12 seats, falling from 34 to 22.
This, along with the fierce campaigns run by both the parties, have created a perception that the upcoming battle for the state is primarily between both these parties.
This perception has been further fortified by the lack of other contenders - CPI(M), Congress and AIMIM - who were nowhere to be found among the top spending pages pn Facebook ads - While CPI(M) Bengal has spent around ₹ 90,000 on ads in the past 90 days, Indian National Congress - West Bengal had only spent a meagre amount of ₹ 800.
Facebook's region-wise break up of ad expenditure shows that around ₹ 3.05 crore has been spent targeting users in West Bengal in the past 90 days.
Editor's Note: The previous version of this article took into accounts the political ads that specifically targetting West Bengal users, and had figures reflecting numbers for the region. The article has been edited and expanded to also consider pages linked to the West Bengal election targeting users in other states.