In order to bring transparency to election ads, Google, on Tuesday, announced that it would introduce an India-specific Political Advertising Transparency Report and searchable Political Ads Library. This move comes at the heels of Facebook’s announcement that it would work round-the-clock to safeguard the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Chetan Krishnaswamy, the director of public policy at Google India, announced this on Google’s official blog.
What is Google doing?
The Political Advertising Transparency Report and the Political Ads Library will go live in March 2019.
Furthermore, the company has updated its election ads policy for India. It now requires that advertisers running election ads in India provide a pre-certificate issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI), or anyone authorised by the ECI, for each ad they wish to run. Google will verify the identity of advertisers before running the ads. The advertiser verification process will begin on 14 February 2019.
In addition to the Transparency Report and Ads Library, election ads on Google platforms will also disclose who has paid for the ad.
How will this help?
All these steps are being implemented to combat the malaise of fake news and spread of misinformation through social media.
The Transparency Report, which is already available for the United States, will allow users to view how much a candidate and/or political party spends on an Google advertising. It will also presumably give a list of organisations that spend the most on political advertising. The most spent on keywords would also be visible so that users know which search terms result in which ads.
The Ads Library, on the other hand, will be a repository of all the election ads which will list the ad metadata including the advertiser, the party, the date, etc. It will also disclose the number of times the ad has been viewed and how much the ad cost.
But wait, what are election ads?
Google defines election ads as those that “feature a candidate running for political office, a current elected officeholder, or in parliamentary systems, a political party”.
In the Indian context, these ads are “ads for Lok Sabha Elections that feature a political party, a political candidate or current member of the Lok Sabha, or any ads that are run by a political party, political candidate, or current member of the Lok Sabha”. These ads don’t include ads for products or services, or ads run by news organisations to promote their news coverage.
How did Indian political parties respond?
Times of India reported that Divya Spandana, Congress’s social media and digital communications in-charge, and Ankit Lal, AAP’s social media strategist, supported the idea in principle, but pointed out the possible shortcomings. They did not elaborate on the shortcomings. BJP, however, did not release any statement.
Are these effective steps?
While Google and Facebook’s steps are necessary, in a country like India, where literacy, especially media literacy, are at dismal levels, these steps seem to fall short. From a practical perspective, how likely is it that a layperson will make the effort to verify the source of an election ad that s/he views online? However, Google and Facebook’s attempts to choke the flow of misleading ads is definitely a step in the right direction.
Aditi Agrawal is a senior sub editor at Qrius.