IPL Frenzy: PM Modi Is a Dhoni-Like Leader in Pro-BJP Facebook Ads

IPL Frenzy: PM Modi Is a Dhoni-Like Leader in Pro-BJP Facebook Ads

A paid promotion on Facebook by ‘Modi 11’, a month-old page with only 771 followers but with advertisements worth Rs 2.14 lakh in a week, reads:

“Two of India’s best finishers, Dhoni & Modi
Both need a team to bring home the cup”

An advertisement for the IPL? Or for that other ‘IPL’ – the Indian Political League of 2019?

To answer this, let’s take a look at another advertisement from the same page.

“Just as a match cannot be won on Virat’s centuries, elections cannot be won solely on Modi’s positive works. They both need a team to win”

As the slog overs before the elections commence, political ads for PM Modi are cashing in on the other ‘festival’ running parallel to the Lok Sabha Elections 2019 – the Indian Premier League. Once the IPL bandwagon draws to a halt by mid-May, the ICC Cricket World Cup will kick-off from 30 May.

Facebook’s latest report on political advertisement spending for the week of 24-30 March revealed a new entrant in the list of top 20 advertisers – Modi 11. However, just like the other top pro-BJP advertisers on Facebook, we do not know who is paying for these promotions.

Modi 11, whose Facebook page was created on 4 March, emerged as the 11th highest spender on the social media platform last week. According to the report, it had spent Rs 2,14,202 on 745 advertisements.

While a number of paid posts make direct references to cricket, including India having two objectives – a World Cup and a Modi win – one post on its official website stretches the cricket-elections parallel to PM Modi being a ‘better finisher than Dhoni’.

Former Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who plays as a middle order batsman in limited overs cricket, is hailed as one of the best finishers in international cricket.

(Photo courtesy: Modi 11)
(Photo courtesy: Modi 11/ Facebook)

Modi 11 Sounds A Lot Like the ‘Dream 11’ App

Those who follow sports, especially cricket and/or the IPL may be familiar with the popular fantasy cricket app – Dream 11.

The app, which claims to have over 5 crore users, allows individuals to use their “skill and knowledge” to create their own team made up of real players for cricket, football, kabaddi & NBA.

The team earns points and stands to win cash prizes based on one’s chosen players' performance in the real-life matches.

Modi 11 employs a similar but simplified strategy. Instead of picking cricketers, this site encourages a registered user to pick her friends.

According to the Modi 11 website, a user can create an account on the website and invite others to join her team to create a squad of eleven who will then unite to collectively campaign for PM Modi in the upcoming general elections.

The initiative’s official slogan says ‘1 se Banenge 11, Laayenge Modi Dobara’. However, unlike Dream 11, there is no clarity on whether teams would earn points based on the strength of their campaigning or what the team stands to win.

(Photo courtesy: Modi 11)

A Trove Of Memes Within Neatly Categorised Topics

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Modi 11 is its page with thousands of politically-loaded memes under neatly categorised topics.

Categories such as what?

Such as Modi, Culture, 60 Years vs 60 Months, Mahagathbandhan, Congress Hatao, War on Corruption, Modinomics among others.

Click on any topic and one is greeted with a trove of hundreds of memes within it. The memes are made easily downloadable and shareable with links to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Most memes are shown to have been shared several thousand times. 
(Photo courtesy: Modi 11)

Not surprisingly, the memes tackle a wide variety of topics. Just as Dhoni dons a dual role of wicket-keeper and batsman, so do these memes praise PM Modi’s achievements while simultaneously attacking the Congress and opposition parties.

Who is Paying for the Advertisments ?

A perusal of the Modi 11 page in the Facebook Ads Library reveals two patterns:

1.Its details about itself are at best sketchy.

2. The advertising patterns are similar to other pro-BJP pages like Nation With NaMo, My First Vote For Modi and Bharat Ke Mann ki Baat – all three are among the top advertisers on Facebook, having collectively spent over Rs 4 crore on over 12,000 advertisers since February.

  • Modi 11 only mentions “Barakhamba Road, New Delhi 110001” as the address of its advertiser. Incidentally, the other pro-BJP pages mention Barakhamba in their address, but as part of the BJP headquarters address on Deendayal Upadhyay Marg.
  • It also has a phone number – +91 63728 02077. This is also similar to the phone number on the other pro-BJP pages like Nation With NaMo and My First Vote for Modi which have +91-63728 02059 +91-63728 02105 as their number respectively.
  • The Quint contacted all the numbers and found them all to have been registered in Odisha and unreachable.
  • Modi 11 is promoted on the other pro-BJP pages and websites as well. Nation with NaMo has also been running a banner on its home page asking people to “build your own NaMo 11 team to campaign for PM Modi and lead this team”. We don’t know who is paying for the paid promotions by Nation With NaMo either.
(Photo courtesy: Modi 11)

Why Should This Worry Us ?

The absence of a specific individual who can be held accountable for the political advertisements is the first red flag. Neither does the page mention its full address, nor does it assign a phone number that is reachable.

Moreover, even though the page has only 881 followers, its paid promotions can afford it a reach a far wider reach. According to the Ads Library, most of its posts have about 5,000 impressions on an average.

This assumes significance when one goes through the trove of hundreds of shareable memes on its website – most of them with questionable claims. However, like all the other top pro-BJP advertisers one crucial questions has remained unanswered – who is paying for these advertisements ?

CAN THIS COME UNDER THE PURVIEW OF THE ELECTION COMMISSION ?

On 10 March, when the Election Commission of India announced the poll dates, it also elaborated upon a number of measures to monitor political activity online.

  • Candidates will have to declare their expenditure on political ads on social media at the time of filing nominations.
  • All political advertisements by candidates and parties will be vetted by a Media Certification and Monitoring Committee.

These rules were accepted by all the major social media platforms including Facebook and are present in the voluntary “Code of Ethics” – a set of 8 commitments – that the major platforms collectively submitted to the Chief Election Commissioner, Sunil Arora.

However, the EC or the ‘Code of Ethics’ say nothing about paid political advertisements by non-candidates or non-party pages or individuals. Moreover, Facebook has kept vital disclosures voluntary in its ads library. Therefore, advertisements can run without information on the sponsor of the advertisement, the phone number or address of the sponsor.

“Voluntary declaration means there is no verification by Facebook. I am free to put in any address,” Pratik Sinha, founder of AltNews, had told The Quint.

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