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LONDON: Tech giant Meta approved political advertisements on its platforms inciting violence and hate speech during India’s general election, a report released on Monday revealed.

The investigation, conducted by non-sectarian diasporic organization India Civil Watch International and corporate watchdog Eko, found that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, allowed AI-manipulated political ads that spread disinformation and incited religious violence, particularly targeting Muslims.

The report found that Meta’s system failed to prohibit a series of inflammatory ads designed to mimic real-life scenarios, uploaded by ICWI and Eko.

The ads, submitted to Meta’s ad library, contained slurs towards Muslims in India, such as “let’s burn this vermin” and “Hindu blood is spilling, these invaders must be burned.”

Another ad featured Hindu supremacist language and false claims about political leaders, including an opposition leader allegedly wanting to “erase Hindus from India” and calling for their execution.

According to the report, all of the adverts “were created based upon real hate speech and disinformation prevalent in India, underscoring the capacity of social media platforms to amplify existing harmful narratives.”

Out of 22 ads submitted in English, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati and Kannada, 14 were approved by Meta, while a further three were approved after minor tweaks that did not alter the overall provocative messaging.

Only five ads were rejected for violating Meta’s community standards on hate speech and violence.

The ads, which largely targeted Muslims, were immediately removed after approval by ICWI and Eko.

The organizations accused Meta of profiting from hate speech and failing to uphold its pledge to prevent AI-generated or manipulated content from spreading on its platforms during the Indian election.

Campaign spending for India’s elections, the largest and longest in the world, is estimated to reach $16 billion.

The report also claims that the approved ads violated India’s election rules, which ban election-related content 48 hours before polling begins and during voting.

Meta, which requires vetting approval for accounts running political ads, had already faced controversy during this year’s Indian elections.

A previous report by ICWI and Eko found that surrogate or “shadow” accounts aligned with political parties paid vast sums of money to disseminate unauthorized political ads on platforms.

Some approved accounts for running political ads were even up for sale in public Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members.

Many of these real ads endorsed Islamophobic tropes and Hindu supremacist narratives.

The tech giant has struggled for years with the spread of Islamophobic content on its platforms, raising concerns about Meta’s ability to enforce its policies and control the situation amid rising anti-Muslim sentiment in India.

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