New Delhi: Facebook Monday removed around 200 pro-BJP pages or groups as part of a larger purge of political pages that violate its policies, ThePrint has reliably learnt from multiple sources.
The social network announced that it had taken down various political pages run by different organisations: A digital marketing company called Silver Touch Technologies, the information technology cell of the Gujarat Congress, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). However, individuals running pages or groups were not named.
These organisations have been named because they were indulging in “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour”. Of the three, Silver Touch is a Gujarat-based company known to be working closely with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Fifteen pages or groups run by the company have been removed. The most prominent of these was “The Indian Eye”, which alone had a total following of 2.6 million or 26 lakh users.
Silver Touch also runs the ‘NaMo’ app, the personal app of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The company denies running “The Indian Eye”, but Facebook said it was run by “individuals associated with Silver Touch”. The page was also known to spread fake news.
Like the ISPR and the Congress Gujarat IT Cell, Silver Touch has been named to discourage organisations from abusing the Facebook platform. Such behaviour has been described as “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” (CIB). But there’s also a whole other set of 200 pages that have been removed under a different criterion: Abuse by individuals or “civic spam”.
If CIB is like organised crime, civic spam is petty crime. Facebook’s investigations did not find organisational involvement in these pages. Multiple sources say these 200 pages were almost entirely Right-wing, pro-BJP pages.
“Civic spam” violations include users trying to obfuscate their real locations, posting links to malware, running fake or multiple accounts, impersonation, or running “ad farms” to make money. According to a Facebook release, many of these were financially-motivated spamming activities to drive traffic to various websites.
Right-wing pages ‘decimated’, say admins
ThePrint spoke to three different individuals whose pages have been affected. They were running Right-wing, pro-BJP, pro-Hindutva pages. All three claimed they do not have any formal association with the BJP or the government. Two of them separately estimated that the total reach of their pro-BJP pages has been reduced by 200 million or 20 crore users. In contrast, 680 pages or groups run by the Gujarat Congress IT cell were removed — their total following was limited to 200,000 users.
There is no way to verify the claim about the numbers, but many of these Right-wing pages did have followers in millions. “We [right-wing Facebook pages] are decimated,” said one of the affected individuals.
One of the affected parties, Chandigarh-based entrepreneur Rajesh Jindal, told ThePrint: “We have nothing to do with the IT cell of the BJP or any party but yes, a lot of our content was nationalist and Right-wing. It is ridiculous to see Amit Malviya [BJP IT Cell chief] celebrate when we have been affected far more than the Congress. He’s behaving as though he did a surgical strike on the Congress but he has nothing to do with what has happened.”
These pages were used for pro-BJP and pro-Hindutva propaganda, but they also made money as advertising channels. Jindal said his company, Jindal Infomedia, would suffer at least a 30 per cent revenue loss because Facebook has taken down — or “unpublished” — several of its pages. These include pages such as “Thank You Akshay Kumar”, “Anmol Vichar”, and “Indian Force Fans”. His main property, an FB page called “hindutva.info”, has not been affected as yet.
Another individual affected by the “civic spam” takedowns, who didn’t want to be named, said the action has caused him a loss of crores of rupees.
“It takes 20 to 50 lakhs of ad spend to earn 1 lakh likes. It will take me Rs 2 crore to create such an audience base again,” he told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
His pages that have been taken down include “Atal Modi”, “Great Narendra Modi” and “Ek Naam Narendra Modi”. This last one, he says, had 15 lakh followers. He said there were pages with as many as 50 lakh followers but refused to name them — “very sensitive”.
The Patna-based ‘content entrepreneur’ said one of his friends ran pages with a cumulative traffic of 50 million or 5 crore people, which sounds exaggerated.
“You might think how’s such a large audience possible, but it is. People like us have been running such pages since 2010. We’ve invested our lives in this. We started out for ideological reasons but then we realised we could also make money,” the admin told ThePrint.
The three also said some takedowns have happened for violations they were not even aware of, such as sharing monetised videos on different pages. Facebook has recently launched ad monetisation for videos uploaded by pages.
Another page that has been removed belonged to a news organisation, the website MyNation, edited by Abhijit Majumder and owned by BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
Pratik Sinha and Mohammed Zubair, editors of the fact-checking website AltNews.in, collected names of many more pages on Twitter. These include “Support4Modi” with 18 lakh followers, and “Postcard Fans” with 13 lakh followers. Others were called “Dainik Bharat”, “India Report Card”, “Nation Wants NaMo”, and the official page of Hyderabad BJP MLA Raja Singh.
This report has been updated with new information