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Facebook to end ad targeting by religion in India

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The social media marketing landscape in Indian politics may now have to take a major turn as Facebook is planning on stopping micro-targeting potential voters through paid advertisements on the platform.

A source close to the recent developments stated that targeting users based on religion and caste will no longer be allowed on Facebook.

It is to be noted that the self-regulated changes in Facebook are seeming to come ahead of the state elections in Bihar, Jharkhand, Pondicherry, and Delhi. After the changes are enforced, political parties will have to target an audience based on common interests and “liked” interests alone, said the source.

Facebook’s move to ban micro-targeting comes after Twitter announces its ban on political ads and restrictions around micro-targeting. While Twitter’s new rules are going to come into play from November 22, it still isn’t clear if Facebook will implement the aforementioned changes.

India is one of Facebook’s largest markets and is larger than that of the US. With Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram enjoying great popularity across the country, it isn’t an exaggeration to state that Facebook has deeply penetrated India.

Regarding Facebook’s advertisement norms, it is to be understood that the social media giant allows politicians and parties to run advertisements on the platform without being subjected to any fact-check.

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has been at the receiving end of heavy criticism and is deemed as a company that is known to influence elections and allow politicians to micro-target voters. Be it pressure from fellow social media companies such as Twitter or increased scrutiny, Facebook is set to now remove micro-targeting.

If the new change is implemented, politicians cannot specifically micro-target users by displaying advertisements based on the religion of a user and so on; however, advertisements can still be targeted based on interests.

While micro-targeting the Hindu population of a city or a town may not be allowed, advertisements can still be displayed to users interested in Hindu scripture or literature. This way, micro-targeting may not be explicit anymore, but users can still be targeted.

Social media marketing has played a prominent role in the realm of Indian politics. For instance, the country’s national elections in 2019 saw political parties spending nearly $3 million on Facebook ads alone, with the winning party BJP spending the lion’s share of $2.7 million.

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