TMC Was India’s Highest Political Spender On Facebook Last Month

Of the 10 top spenders in West Bengal, 5 pages are run by I-PAC, while 2 others belong to TMC leaders.

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Politics
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TMC Highest Political Spender On Facebook India in Last One Month
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In the last month, between 4 August and 2 September, the official page of the Trinamool Congress was the highest spender on political advertisements on Facebook India. According to data on political ads and spending available on the Facebook Ad Library, the page ‘All India Trinamool Congress’, spent Rs 11,17,737 on 77 ads last month.

With the elections around the corner, the pandemic effectively stunting public gatherings, and both Google and Twitter not giving space to political ads, Facebook is set to become the main political battle ground ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls.

While the TMC has now taken on Facebook for its role in previous elections, this outrage must be seen in the context of their emphatic digital push on the platform over the last couple of months.

Facebook The New Political Battlefield? What The Numbers Say

The All India Trinamool Congress page was the highest spender in India as well as West Bengal in the 4 August to 2 September period. Nationally, another Trinamool page, Banglar Gorbo Mamata, was the 13th highest spender in this period.

Top Spenders on Facebook Political ads in India.
Top Spenders on Facebook Political ads in India.
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

If we look at data specifically for West Bengal, the TMC official page was the highest spender, followed by Youth In Politics, and BJP West Bengal. Youth In Politics is a “pan-India” campaign by political strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) that has also been roped in by the TMC to handle its campaign for 2021.

Here is a list of the top 10 pages that spent the most on political ads in West Bengal over this time period:

Top spenders on Facebook political ads in West Bengal.
Top spenders on Facebook political ads in West Bengal.
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)
Of these ten, five pages are run by I-PAC and affiliates while Rajib Banerjee and Koushik Ghosh are both pages of Trinamool leaders.

In terms of spending, the TMC official page spent Rs 48.91 lakh in West Bengal-targeted ads in the 17 months between February 2019 and September 2020. Of this, Rs 10.21 lakh were spent in the last month alone. This means that a whopping 20 percent of the total 17-month expenditure was spent between August and September.

Spending on Facebook: AITC vs BJP West Bengal
Spending on Facebook: AITC vs BJP West Bengal
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

In comparison, the BJP West Bengal page spent Rs 2.38 lakh on Bengal-targeted political ads last month, approximately one-fifth the expenditure made by the TMC official page. Their spending in the last 17 months was also less than half that of the TMC page, at Rs 21.98 lakh.

Gains From FB: The ‘Impression’able Youth

A cursory look at the TMC-run pages like AITC and Banglar Gorbo Mamata show that the highest amounts of money was spent on ad campaigns around ‘Banglar Jubo Shokti’, a campaign launched by the TMC to on-board youth volunteers or Jubo Joddhas.

Many of these ad clusters, launched in August, already have over 1 millon impressions that are concentrated around the 18-24 and 25-34, male demographic.

The Quint had earlier reported on the Trinamool’s youth-focus ahead of the 2021 election campaign, designed by I-PAC. Recently, the party, in a much-publicized move, inducted a large number of youngsters into the party in 14 districts across the state.

While various news portals have put the number of joinees between 4 to 6 lakh, party sources say that the actual number was not more than 10,000. These new joinees were apparently people from West Bengal who had signed up for I-PAC’s Youth In Politics program and wanted to “enter politics with the TMC”.

This also explains why the Youth In Politics page, though not technically a page for TMC-related content, is one of the highest spenders in Bengal.

Facebook, therefore, has also turned out to be the best way to reach out to an important target demographic.

"Apart from that the reason the party is pumping more money into Facebook is because the social media pages of the Trinamool did not have much reach previously. Pumping in money now will ensure that their reach increases exponentially in the months leading up to the elections", said a TMC source.

But why so much focus on Facebook?

"Unlike Twitter, Facebook is where one can influence people across the social strata. After Whatsapp, Facebook has the highest reach in India. Twitter is only for influencing influencers, but our experience has shown that even someone in a remote village will have a Facebook account on their Jio connection," said Samarth Saran, co-founder of Risap, a political consultancy firm.

"We have also seen that the Facebook algorithm works in a way such that increasing reach after a certain point requires more marginal investment, even if the scale of increase is the same as the one you've previously achieved," Saran adds.

“For example, if I spend 100 rupees to increase my reach to 100 extra people, for the next 100 people, I’ll have to shell out more.”

Recently, the TMC wrote to Facebook accusing it of a ‘Zuckerberg-BJP’ link that may be detrimental to the electoral process ahead of the West Bengal elections. In his letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien wrote that a series of recent reports vindicate the party’s stand on the social media platform’s role in the 2014 and 2019 elections- something that the party had brought up in Parliament in 2019.

In its letter, the party has also accused the platform of blocking and removing various Trinamool-affiliated pages from the site. With the expenditure going into their Facebook campaign, the concern is understandable.

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