The clean-up drive by social media giant Facebook ahead of the national elections -- which involved the removal of nearly 700 pages and accounts -- appears to have proved more expensive for the BJP than the Congress. Of these, 687 pages and accounts were linked to "individuals associated with the IT cell of Congress" but there were 15 pages, groups and accounts that were spreading pro-BJP information, Facebook said in a statement.
While the number of Congress pages taken down was higher, those pages had only 2 lakh followers, said Facebook. In contrast, the pro-BJP content -- 1 Page, 12 Facebook accounts, 1 Group and 1 Instagram account -- had over 26 lakh followers.
Also, more money was spent on the pro BJP pages that were taken down. While the pro-Congress pages involved an expenditure of $39,000 (close to 27 lakhs) in spending on Facebook ads since August 2014, the corresponding amount for the pro-BJP pages were $70,000 (close to 50 lakhs).
"Around $70,000 USD in spending for ads on Facebook, paid for in Indian rupees. The first ad ran in June 2014 and the most recent ad ran in Feb 2019," Facebook said.
"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that this activity was linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch," Facebook said. They were using both authentic and fake accounts to share content about "local news and political events". There were posts on government action, "the upcoming elections, the BJP and alleged misconduct of political opponents, including the INC," Facebook said.
In 2017, in an email to NDTV, Amit Malviya, the chief of the BJP's IT cell, had denied any knowledge of the firm Silver Touch.
But NDTV had found 17 departments of the Gujarat government were the clients of the firm, which also maintains 46 government websites. Silver Touch has also developed apps for the foreign ministry and the President of India.
While the Congress tweeted, saying no official page was taken down, the BJP is yet to respond.
This is to clarify no official pages run by INC have been taken down. Additionally, all pages run by our verified volunteers are also unaffected.— Congress (@INCIndia) April 1, 2019
In the mean time, we are awaiting a response from Facebook to provide us a list of all pages/accounts that they have taken down.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Congress is "desperate (and) therefore resorting to these types of dubious means to claim support".
Facebook said all the accounts were removed not for political content but "coordinated inauthentic behaviour", meaning these were fake accounts used to mislead and manipulate people.
The move was part of Facebook's efforts to stop the spread of misinformation especially ahead of the elections.
Along with WhatsApp, the social media giant has been under government pressure to stop the spread of fake news and anything that might influence the country's electoral process.