11,000 Political Ads Worth Rs 7.7 Crore Posted By Chinese App Helo Taken Down By Facebook
[Update: Helo reached out to us and gave their version on the issue. We have updated the article accordingly]
As the elections are knocking the door, one can easily notice a lot of political advertisements on their Facebook newsfeed. To control these overflowing political advertisements and bring transparency, Facebook, which is the largest social media platform and also the largest digital ad platform, has taken down 11,000 advertisements by Helo app, reported The Print. According to the data available in the Facebook Ad Library, it is estimated that approximately a whopping Rs 7.7 crore was spent behind these ads.
Interestingly, Helo is owned by ByteDance, the same company which owns the popular lip-syncing app TikTok.
Not following Facebook’s transparency rules
Facebook removed these ads citing that these ads did not get along with Facebook’s transparency rules. These ads referred to political figures, politics, and nationally-important issues and did not mention who paid for the ad, thus standing against the company’s efforts to increase transparency related to political ads. As of now, this number is considered to be the highest number of ads by a single platform that the company has dropped. The crackdown against political ads came after the Election Commission (EC), the election watchdog, frowned upon political ads which end up influencing voters. According to The Print, the EC has asked the union law ministry to keep a track on Facebook and Twitter ads ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Photoshopped images of politicians
Helo’s ads contained jokes, Shayari, information on sports, entertainment and current affairs in 14 Indian languages. The ads never mainly focused on a single party but carried news about politics, politicians, and national issues. Captions like “BJP using Atalji to the maximum potential” or “Rahul Gandhi said we will abolish GST, now the Congress-ruled are in disagreement to even reduce the slabs”. Photoshopped images of politicians were used in these ads to sensualise the crowd.
Apart from these, Helo is also known for publishing fake news content. According to a Hindustan Times report in 2018, Helo, alleged that BBC addressed the Congress as “fourth most corrupt party in the world”. The Print reported that Helo has agreed not to post any political ads throughout the election process. The company has stopped publishing politics related ads on Facebook since 20 February 2019.
What Helo has to say
Helo reached out to The Logical Indian and said that their political ads are party-agnostic. The ads taken down by Facebook were all generated prior to the declaration of General Elections and the enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct. Out of all the 11,000 ads that were taken down by Facebook as part of their new ad policy, only 7% or 770 were original pieces of content, while the remaining 93% comprised of multi-language versions or variations of these original ad content.
The company said, “We have informed the ECI that we will not serve any paid political advertisements throughout this election period and will not be proactively onboarding any political figures or parties on our platform.”