Netas open wallets for social media ads as polls loom

Science & Technology

With just over a month for the Delhi Assembly elections and contentious laws and policies polarising the electorate, political advertising and content spends on social media are expected to rise this year despite several restrictions placed on them by social media platforms, experts said.

While micro-blogging platform Twitter banned political advertising in October, Google curbed ways in which political parties can micro target their campaigns in November. Chinese ByteDance-owned short-video platform TikTok does not allow political advertising at all.

Still, this is unlikely to dampen spending on social media advertising in the country, the experts said. “Political advertising spends won’t go down in 2020. They have tasted blood. There will just be a qualitative tweaking of expenses,” said brand consultant Harish Bijoor. “They will always find a loophole to thwart any restrictions placed by platforms on political ads. Earlier, political ads focused on short periods of time, on a campaign. Two months became six, and now it is year-round,” he said.

According to Facebook’s political advertising transparency report, political parties spent Rs 74.88 lakh targetting Delhi in the last 90 days.

Paltu Aadmi Party — a mock-page advertising against incumbent Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was the top spender during the period, followed by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) official account.

Another page ‘My Delhi, My Pride’, advertising in support of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was the third-highest spender. Delhi elections will be held on February 8. “Political parties are finding organic ways of advertising by paying influencers or creating online communities. Spending will definitely not come down,” said Naresh Arora, director of DesignBoxed, which managed Indian National Congress’ campaign in the recent Haryana Assembly elections and earlier handled the party’s social media campaign during the general elections. “Creating and distributing content is very expensive. Some political parties even pay people for posting tweets on their behalf,” he added. Spending to create content for social media is not directly correlated with elections, though, and will be driven by government policies as political parties plan various outreach programmes on social media, Arora said.

The advertising spends are usually higher than what is disclosed by social media platforms, experts said. Money spent on creating and distributing content through thousands of surrogates — on WhatsApp, Twitter and other platforms organically — usually leave no money trail, they pointed out. For example, political parties and affiliates officially spent about ?72 crore to advertise on Facebook, Google and Twitter in 2019, according to advertising transparency reports released by the US-based technology companies. However, the amount is believed to be at least 3-4 times more than the official figure.

Political parties will increasingly use influencers to spread their message, since audiences on social media are persuaded by people-to-people communication, said Karthik Srinivasan, an independent communications consultant.

“Political parties are more likely to spend money on social media only for hot-button issues that they need wide reach for,” he said.


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