There is a sleeping dog, a crying crocodile and a chameleon on this Facebook page’s cover. It also has a photograph of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with a tagline in Gujarati that roughly translates to ‘Do not believe in Kejriwal’s promises.’ The page in question is Paltu Express, roughly three months old and has around 20,000 followers. In those three months, this page also has the record of spending the most money on Meta advertisements in India - ₹1.42 crore, between July 18 and October 15, 2022.
While the page does not openly acknowledge its affiliation to any political party, it puts out at least three daily posts, targeting Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party. All the posts are in Gujarati, and the ads’ targeted audience is residents of Gujarat. The Election Commission is expected to announce the 15th Gujarat Legislative Assembly Election Schedule sometime in December.
Meta’s ad-library data over the last three months say that pages from Gujarat paid ₹5.27-crore worth of advertisements on the platform, making the state the top spender in the country. The Punjab Government is the top spender after Paltu Express , closely followed by Aam Aadmi Party Gujarat. The two had spent ₹77.79 lakh and ₹75.53 lakh, respectively, on Meta ads, in 90 days. The fourth largest advertiser is United Nations and AAP’s ‘Make India No.1’ campaign holds the fifth position.
Next on the list is Indian National Congress Gujarat, which had spent ₹37.81 lakh on Meta ads. Interestingly, BJP Gujarat is only the tenth largest advertiser in that period, spending ₹25.86 lakh.
However, they have 748 ads in the library, 275 more than Paltu Express. INC Gujarat has 685 of them.
“This is an old trend in the Indian context. Facebook tends to get a fair share of revenue from those who want to use election mechanisms to bring fame to their candidate or defame the opposing candidate,” says business strategy specialist Harish Bijoor, adding that Meta is always a good format for advertising. At the same time, Bijoor acknowledges the presence of slander pages like Paltu Express. “One of the sad aspects is the lack of accountability when it comes to controlling trolls. We have been told that there is a semblance of sanity in managing a troll army, despite that we find them all over,” he says.
The data shows that between February 21, 2019, and October 15, 2022, the social media platform Koo spent the most money on Meta ads — ₹7.25 crore. It is followed by the Indian Political Action Committee’s Banglar Gorbo Mamata, a campaign promoting All-India Trinamool Congress’ West Bengal election campaign (₹5.82 crore) and BJP Uttar Pradesh (₹5.65 crore). The other top advertisers are BJP, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and BJP West Bengal.
While almost all of Meta’s advertisements are active, we also looked at India’s Google political ad data. Here, we can see that many of the ads were unpublished for violating policies. Koo is one of the major advertisers here too. Paltu Express, too, has its presence here.