BJP Spent Rs 51 Lakh On Facebook Ads During 48-Hr Silence Period
BJP Spent Rs 51 Lakh On Facebook Ads During 48-Hr Silence Period
(Photo: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

BJP Spent Rs 51 Lakh On Facebook Ads During 48-Hr Silence Period

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ran advertisements worth Rs 51 lakh in violation of the mandatory 48-hour silence period, before the first phase of polling of Lok Sabha elections.

According to the weekly ads report published by Facebook, the amount was spent on 28 advertisements that started running on 9 April, the day the silence period commenced and ran till 11 April, the day of the polls. All the ads were shown in at least one or more states that voted in the first phase.

A total of 91 Lok Sabha constituencies went to polls in the first phase on 11 April. The promotions were primarily aimed at poll bound states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharasthra, Odisha and Bihar.

Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 bars the display or propagation of “any election matter” in any polling area for 48 hours till the conclusion of the poll.

Interestingly, of the total Rs 87 lakh that the BJP has spent on Facebook ads since February, Rs 51 lakh was spent in a single week between 7 and 13 April, in which the ads were running only in the silence period.

Also Read : Law Sets Rs 10 Cap, But 3 Pro-BJP Facebook Pages Spent Crores

A BJP ad promoting its rap video aimed at first time voters.
A BJP ad promoting its rap video aimed at first time voters.
(Photo courtesy: Bharatiya Janata Party/ Facebook)

What Does the Law Say ?

Section 126 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, clearly states that “no person shall display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus in any polling area during the period of forty-eight hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the poll for any election in that polling area.”

BJP ran video ads on a variety of topics that included:

  • Lower taxes
  • Terrorism
  • Corruption
  • Empowering farmers
  • Dignity for the poor

It also ran its recent rap video aimed at first time voters as well as a generic promotional video urging people to vote for the BJP.

At the end of all each advertisement video, is a message saying “Kamal ka button dabaye, BhaJaPa ko jitaye (Press the button with the lotus symbol, make the BJP victorious).” This message is also accompanied by an image of the EVM button with the BJP’s lotus symbol on it.

A promotional song published by the BJP urging people to vote for the party.
A promotional song published by the BJP urging people to vote for the party.
(Photo courtesy: Bharatiya Janata Party/ Facebook)

Social Media’s “Code of Ethics” Pledged to Prevent This

On 20 March, social media platforms, including Facebook, had voluntarily agreed to take down political advertisements during the mandated 48-hour “silence period” before each of the seven phases of polling.

Seven social media giants – Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, Sharechat, TikTok and BigoTV – had signed an eight-point “Code Of Ethics for the General Elections 2019” and presented it to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora.

So, what is the objective of this Code ?

According to the document, which was prepared with the help of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the purpose is to “safeguard” the platforms “against misuse to vitiate the free and fair character” of the elections as well as to “identify measures” to “increase confidence in the electoral process”.

So, why hasn’t Facebook taken down these ads that violate the 48-hour silence period?

Fair question. However, a perusal of the code and its provisions present a curious situation.

Point 3 of the code says that a social media platform will act on violations of section 126 of the RP Act but provided it receives a valid legal request from the Election Commission for the same. Therefore, the code says nothing about a social media platform acting on violations on its own.

“Participants and the Election Commission of India (ECI) have developed a notification mechanism by which the ECI can notify the relevant platforms of the potential violations of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and other applicable elctoral laws in accordance with the procedures established by law.”

The paragraph further states that “These valid legal orders will be acknowledged and/or processed within 3 hours for violations reported under section 126 as per the Sinha Committee recommendations”.

One of the ads published by Facebook that is still active.
One of the ads published by Facebook that is still active.
(Photo courtesy: Bharatiya Janata Party/ Facebook)

Also Read : Social Media’s Commitments for Elections 2019: Can It Stop Abuse?

Congress Also Found to be Violating Silence Period

The Congress party, which has emerged as the highest spending page on Facebook for the week between 31 March and 6 April, was the second highest spender behind the BJP, the following week.

However, the Congress too, which spent Rs 18 lakh on 602 advertisements, were also found to have violated the silence period. A number of its advertisements promoting its manifesto ran on 9 and 10 April. Unlike BJP’s advertisements, they turned inactive on the 10th, a day before polls.

The Quint has reached out to both, the Election Commission of India and Facebook. This story will be updated once their responses are received.

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