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Business News/ Technology / News/  Meta passed politically inflammatory ads, says report

Meta passed politically inflammatory ads, says report

An investigation report said that 14 advertisements with allegedly incendiary political content passed through Meta's filters.

The report, however, did not include any links to the allegedly inflammatory advertisements. (Photo: AFP)Premium
The report, however, did not include any links to the allegedly inflammatory advertisements. (Photo: AFP)

New Delhi: Meta Platforms India, which runs WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook in the country, has allegedly failed to filter at least 14 advertising campaigns that include politically inflammatory content amid the ongoing general elections. A report on the matter by US-based activist bodies Eko and India Civil Watch International claimed that the ads were approved between 8-13 May—amid the ongoing seven-phase general elections in the country. However, the report did not offer links for the alleged incendiary content.

To be sure, the advertisements in question were created by the civil body Eko itself. In the report, Eko researchers noted that the ads replicated misinformation, hate speech and religious political abuse—factors that are expected to be filtered out with Meta’s policies and third-party human content moderation teams. Eko eventually did not publish the ads, but claimed that 14 of nearly 22 such ads passed Meta’s quality check gauntlet. Mint could not independently verify this, and Meta claimed that Eko had not shared the videos with them for inspection, at least until press time.

What Meta says

A Meta India spokesperson said in a statement, “As part of our ads review process—which includes both automated and human reviews—we have several layers of analysis and detection, both before and after an ad goes live. Because the authors immediately deleted the ads in question we cannot comment on the claims made."

Meta is unequipped to detect and label AI-generated ads, despite its new policy committing to do so, and its utter failure to stamp out hate speech and incitement to violence—in direct breach of its own policies," the report said.

“Between 8-13 May, Meta approved 14 highly inflammatory ads. These (ads) called for violent uprisings targeting Muslim minorities, disseminated blatant disinformation exploiting communal or religious conspiracy theories prevalent in India's political landscape, and incited violence through Hindu supremacist narratives. One approved ad also contained messaging mimicking that of a recently-doctored video of Union home minister, Amit Shah," the report alleged.

The investigation also included content manipulated by generative AI platforms, “proving how quickly and easily this new technology can be deployed to amplify harmful content."

The report, however, did not include any links to the allegedly inflammatory advertisements. A copy of it was seen by Mint.

A spokesperson for Eko did not respond to Mint’s request for details on the report. However, an official with knowledge of the matter, requesting anonymity, said that Eko researchers did not share any links of the allegedly problematic content for Meta India to investigate, at least until Tuesday evening. “As a company, it’s a bit unclear as to what Meta should respond to, since there’s no content for it to investigate as yet," the official said.

Eko’s researchers claimed in the investigation note that none of the ad campaigns that seemingly passed through Meta’s quality and policy control filters were actually run, and were deleted before the advertising campaigns went live on Meta’s platforms.

Issues regarding deepfakes, election-related hate speech and misinformation have risen during the seven-phase election process that began on 19 April. Meta as well as Google have been under the radar after deepfake videos on home minister Shah, as well as public figures Aamir Khan and Ranveer Singh were distributed across Big Tech platforms.

Eko, in its investigation note, cited a response from a Meta spokesperson that underlined steps that the company has been taking to curb electoral misinformation. These steps include human-level curation and filtering of ads content, labelling of AI-generated content, and a “high-priority channel" for the Election Commission of India (ECI) to flag content that could have regulatory issues.

A senior policy consultant at a leading Indian think tank, who requested anonymity since the matter is under investigation and they also work with Meta, said that much of the matter’s immediate future will depend on how the ongoing investigation proceeds.

Also Read | OpenAI joins AI content alliance, day after EC warning on deepfakes

“No major tech platform will want to risk noncompliance in India—it is too strategically important as a market. However, it will also be important to note if all the policies that most Big Tech firms have spoken about in India have really been implemented—if not, an under-the-radar impact could be seriously impactful on grassroots-level voter impact especially in tier-II markets and beyond," the consultant said.


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Shouvik Das
Shouvik Das reports on AI, gaming, IT services, science, space and technology policy for Mint. He also writes on consumer technologies and tech-driven cultural experiences for Lounge, Mint's weekend supplement. Every week, he hosts an irreverent weekly podcast, Techcetra. Beyond work, he is passionate about food, music, sports and travel, and is also a hobbyist photographer.
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Published: 21 May 2024, 09:42 PM IST
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