Political parties have become active on Facebook ahead of the upcoming national elections. Politicians have already spent huge amounts of money through advertising on Facebook. According to the private research organization ‘Digital Right’, political parties, organizations and public representatives in Bangladesh have spent about Tk 4 crore in a year to advertise on Facebook. But there is no transparency in these advertising expenditure data.
Digitally Right said in a press release, they conducted a study titled ‘Hits and Misses: An Examination of Mets Political Ad Policy Enforcement in Bangladesh’. They released the full research report on Monday.
DigitalRight’s research has revealed several flaws in the running of political ads on the meta platform. The agency said the ads were not running in compliance with Meta’s requirements. As a result, non-political ads are also misclassified. Apart from this, META is not able to detect lack of necessary information and lack of transparency about the source of funds. So researchers at Digitally Right believe Meta’s ad recognition system is flawed.
According to Digital Right’s research report, in the last one year, political parties, organizations and public representatives of Bangladesh have spent about 370,000 dollars on advertising from various pages on Facebook, which is a little more than 4 crores in Bangladeshi currency. The top 10 pages include BNP Media Cell and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). About 16,000 dollars worth of advertisements were given from these two pages, which is equivalent to about 18 lakh taka in Bangladeshi currency. Apart from this, an advertisement of 2 thousand 856 dollars has been given from the page of Bangladesh Awami League, which is 3 lakh 19 thousand taka in Bangladeshi currency.
According to Digitally Right, non-political ads also fall into the political ads category due to Meta’s flawed ad detection system. Product promotions and job ads are also being misclassified. The researchers believe that errors like this would call into question the ad algorithm.
According to Digitally Right’s survey, there were 4.47 million social media users in Bangladesh in January this year. The number is 34.5 percent of the population aged 18 and over. Facebook has the largest presence of this large number of users, which amounts to 4 crore 32 lakh 50 thousand.
Digitally Right said that this information has been found by analyzing the data of political ads found in the meta ad library in the last one year.
Many ads were political but could not be identified
Digitally Right was able to identify only 50 ads with political messages. About half of these ads came directly from political parties and individuals. On the other hand, 90 percent of the ads contain names of political parties or politicians, but Meta shows them as non-political ads. Apart from this, 72 percent of advertisements featured symbols of political leaders or parties. Digitally Right says that during the research they got this information using ‘key words’.
Advertisers are avoiding transparency
An analysis of 314 ads found in the Mater ad library found that nine advertisers, including two politicians, did not provide information required by Mater’s policies during the mayoral election. According to Meta’s advertising guidelines, advertisers must provide phone, email, website and residential address. But the survey found that 80 percent of the 314 advertisements lacked sufficient information and did not mention the address. 47 percent of advertisements were found to use only the district name. 58 percent of ads used Facebook page URLs instead of websites. And only 17 percent of ads were found to use the full and correct address of the advertiser.
Miraj Ahmed Chowdhury, founder of Digitally Right, said, ‘It is normal for political parties and politicians to spend on advertising, especially before elections, it is a very effective platform to get their message across to a large number of people. But the public must know who pays for the political ads. In this common people can make their own decision consciously. This is why transparency of advertising is important. Herein lies the flaw in Meta’s ad recognition system.’
Non-political but identified as political
Digitally Right analyzed 1,420 ads identified as political in the Matter ad library and found that the ads were not political at all. Rather, the advertisements were from commercial, news and media and other non-political sectors. The study found that ads on politicians’ commercial pages were also flagged by Meta as political ads. Even politicians have misclassified ads for company products. Digitally Right cites Minister television and refrigerator ads as examples. Facebook identified the two product ads as political ads because of the word ‘minister’, the agency said. However, it is the name of a Bangladeshi company.
At the very end of Digitally Right’s news release, they mentioned some of the recommendations of their research report. These recommendations include making Meta or Facebook more accurate in their identification of political ads and seeking the cooperation of the Election Commission (EC), election observers, researchers, civil society and stakeholders where necessary. In addition, Meta should release political advertising data to ensure transparency.