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28 Apr 2024

The London Story, Ekō, & India Civil Watch International

India: Meta allegedly hosts ads promoting hate speech, ‘Islamophobia’ & violence ahead of elections, report finds

"Slander, Lies, and Incitement: India’s million dollar election meme network”, 28 April 2024


As India gears up for its 2024 Lok Sabha election, set to commence its first of seven phases on April 19, where India’s parliament and Prime Minister are elected, the country faces an online surge of shadow political advertising threatening the fabric of the world’s largest democracy.

Researchers from Ekō, Foundation the London Story (TLS), and India Civil Watch International (ICWI) have delved into the Meta Ad Library to dissect the landscape of these advertisers during the eleventh hour of the 2024 pre-election period. This process uncovered a network of far-right shadow advertisers, many of which use memes short-form video content, or political cartoons which leverage satire to dehumanize and deride minorities or opposition parties in India. These narratives, both new and old, are divisive in nature. Many are taking shape against the backdrop of political and social controversies in India which these accounts exploit for ideological gains. In particular, the far-right’s utilization of Meta as an incubator of hate speech has been extensively documented for nearly a decade.

The report provides clear evidence to show how Meta’s “Indian election preparation” statement is already failing due to their piece-meal actions against a tide of systemic issues embedded in their harmful business model. This report also underscores the urgent need for extending regulatory mechanisms to curb the influence of paid advertisements by shadow actors on social media platforms and safeguard India’s democratic ethos. At this point, the Electoral Commission of India is itself facing substantial accusations of favoritism to the BJP. Therefore, any potential regulation must be done in a participatory and consultative manner, so as to promote transparency, accountability, and ethical practices for a fair and inclusive electoral process for all Indian citizens.

Key Findings

  • 1M USD spent by 22 far-right shadow advertisers over 90 days on Meta, accounting for nearly 22% of the total sum of “issues, elections or politics” advertisements in India across the same time period.
  • 36 ads potentially breaking Indian election laws pushing hate speech, Islamophobia, communal violence, and misinformation amassing between 65-66M impressions. The ads include:
    • Islamophobic tropes and disinformation targeting Muslims: depicting them as sexually violent invaders, “instigating communal riots”, and “patrons of terror”
    • Hindu supremacist narratives: ads promoting narratives to recreate India into a Hindu nation and claiming “Hindustan is a country for Hindus” as well as hashtags tied to Hindu supremacist groups.
    • Targeting women lawmakers, journalists, and activists as “anti-India”
    • Aggressive and violent rhetoric against the BJP opposition: referring to opponents as a “virus” that needs to be eradicated and that a BJP candidate will “break their [DMK] spine.” As well as insults such as “demon,” and “poisonous snake”
  • Researchers uncovered a coordinated network lead by a public page named Ulta Chashma, which has nine other pages sharing content, hashtags, and ad payments. This network amassed 10.53M interactions and 34.64M video views within 90 days, with a loophole allowing early political ad postings, indicating a breach of Meta’s ad transparency policy.
  • 23.13M interactions on 22 far-right publisher pages over 90 days.
  • None of the far-right publishers analyzed in the report responded on the phone numbers provided as disclaimers in Meta’s Ad library.


Meta must urgently follow the recommendations of 30+ Indian and international civil society organizations...