Meta Faces Backlash Over Approval of Inflammatory Ads Targeting Indian Audiences: Report

Meta faces criticism for approving inflammatory ads targeting Indian audiences, spreading disinformation and inciting violence during the election period.

Meta, formerly Facebook, finds itself embroiled in controversy once again as a watchdog group reveals that the company approved a series of “highly inflammatory” ads aimed at Indian audiences. These ads, disseminated on Facebook and Instagram, spread disinformation, incited religious violence, and propagated conspiracy theories surrounding the upcoming elections.

According to a report by Ekō, a nonprofit watchdog, Meta greenlit 14 inflammatory ads between May 8-13, 2024. These ads, published in English, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, and Kannada, called for violent uprisings against Muslim minorities, propagated disinformation exploiting communal and religious tensions, and endorsed Hindu supremacist narratives inciting violence.

One particularly alarming ad mirrored a doctored video of Home Minister Amit Shah, threatening to revoke affirmative action policies for oppressed caste groups. Despite notices and arrests of opposition party functionaries, Meta approved this ad, among others.

Accompanying these ads were AI-generated images. Meta’s systems failed to prevent researchers from posting political and incendiary content during the election “silence period,” with easy setup of Facebook accounts facilitating ad dissemination from outside India.

The ads, created and submitted by India Civil Watch International (ICWI) and Ekō, were intended to test Meta’s ability to detect and block inflammatory political content during India’s election period. Shockingly, 14 out of 22 ads were approved within 24 hours, violating Meta’s hate speech and misinformation policies.

While some ads targeted opposition parties with accusations of Muslim favoritism, others stoked fears of a Muslim “invasion” in India. One ad falsely claimed Muslims attacked a Ram temple, urging violent retaliation.

Despite the approval of inflammatory ads, Meta rejected five creatives for violating Community Standards policies on hate speech and violence, and three ads for potentially qualifying as social or political ads, but not for hate speech, incitement of violence, or spreading disinformation.

Business Headline reached out to Meta for comment, with updates pending based on their response.

In FY23, Facebook India Online Services, Meta’s Indian arm, reported a gross advertisement revenue of INR 18,308 Cr, a 13% increase from FY22. Net profit surged by 19% to INR 352 Cr in FY23 from INR 297 Cr in FY22.

Meta had previously pledged to combat misinformation and ensure fair elections in India. The company actively restricted election-related queries on its Meta AI chatbot during trials to enhance transparency and accountability.

News Bureau
News Bureau
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