'Ghost' political adverts: Who to bear responsibilities if disinformation spread on Facebook?

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Nowadays, Meta, formerly Facebook has become a popular platform in Bangladesh to publish political advertisements, but a research conducted by Digitally Right Limited (DRL) found the 80 per cent of the advertisements in Bangladesh did not follow the advertising policy, risking the rise in spreading of propaganda and misinformation, as well as people might be misled by organised propaganda.

Meta introduced its political advertisement policy on 24 May in 2018, and the advertisers are to compulsorily give disclaimer for transparency. In the disclaimer, who is funding for advertisements, his name and addresses, website addresses and phone numbers must be included.

Analysing 314 disclaimers of advertisement the study says in 80 per cent cases, there is no adequate information regarding advertisers or addresses of the organisations. Of this, in case of advertisements, 47 per cent has only mentioned district as address, there is no specific address.

DRL said leaders and activists of political parties are going door to door and talking to voters. Posters are being hung up. In the virtual world, people cannot learn who is giving which advertisement if there is no genuine information about the advertisers.

Meta did not comment on the DRL research. This is not the first time Meta faces such an allegation.

In social media, the most controversial incident about the political advertisement took place during the US election in 2016. In that year, information collected from 87 million Facebook users was used in the election campaign of Donald Trump.

In the campaign, there was a strategy that liberal sides of Trump were presented to the liberal voters in the advertisement. Tough mindsets of Trump were presented to the hardliners. Besides, Meta subsidiary Instagram face the allegation of provoking teens facing depression to suicide. Eventually, these incidents led to US Congress hearings.

It does not end here. Meta platform was widely used to spread the genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar. The social media giant faces similar allegations in India and Meta is believed to not disturb the Hindivta government in India.

In a wake of huge backslash, Meta appointed a legal firm in 2019 to scrutinise whether its platform is being used to spread hatred. The next year, the legal firm said in the perspective of the Delhi riot that Meta took no action to stop the spread of hatred or riot. The riot left 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead. Mata also draws flak over its role in Kashmir.

Meta attended the US Congress hearing, but what will the social media giant do to prevent the risk of spreading misinformation and disinformation in Bangladesh? Will Meta respond to the call of parliament? Whether parliament will call Meta on the responsibility of separating political disinformation is not certain yet because laws are not applied to all equally in Bangladesh.

The government is trying to hold social media platforms accountable enacting the Data Protection Act, but the question remains on whether this act is for holding social media platforms accountable for such activities or for taking over people’s personal information.

It has been learned that the government of Bangladesh has been increasingly requesting user data from Meta, but the company did not disclose the nature of data requested by the government. The government, according to a Google report, made 800 requests to Google from January to June in 2023, and 75 of these requests were related to defamation and criticism of the government.

Amid such circumstances, users of Meta and other social media platforms can do nothing except maintain cautiousness.