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  • Khushboo Pareek

Facebook accounts for sale in 'black market' may threaten Indian election, report claims

The Tech Transparency Project (TTP) has uncovered a trend on Facebook according to which users are able to buy and sell Facebook accounts capable of running political ads in India.

The discovery has raised alarm bells, as there are fears that these accounts could be exploited for election interference in the country.

Despite efforts to investigate further, TTP was unable to ascertain the extent of this illicit trade, including the number of accounts sold and how they are being utilized.

The implications of this activity are significant, given that India's six-week general election is currently underway and scheduled to continue until June 1.

TTP is an information and research hub for journalists, academics, policymakers and members of the public interested in exploring the influence of the major technology platforms on politics and policy.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, prohibits the sale, purchase, or exchange of accounts and prohibit users from misrepresenting themselves.

According to TTP, in June 2023, one seller advertised "INDIAN VERIFIED ACCOUNTS AVAILABLE" in a Facebook group, sharing screenshots of accounts authorised to run ads on social issues, elections, or politics. These accounts were accompanied by ID cards, presumably used for verification.

Facebook has a history of allowing election interference through fake accounts, notably during the 2016 US election campaign, when Russian operatives allegedly used stolen identities to purchase ads promoting Donald Trump.

Meta has faced criticism, particularly in India, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party allegedly used Meta's platforms to spread incendiary content about opponents. Meta has been accused of being slow to act against the BJP's policy violations.

In March 2022, reports surfaced that Facebook provided preferential treatment to the BJP for ads and allowed undisclosed advertisers to boost the party. Meta responded with a statement emphasising its commitment to free and fair elections in India and highlighting its advertising policies and transparency efforts.

In February 2024, a user in the Facebook group "Cracking World" claimed to have "unlimited" accounts approved for running political ads in India. The user, based in Mumbai, according to their Facebook page, identified themselves as an "All Type Facebook Account Seller."

Another seller mentioned in the report, who advertised "INDIAN VERIFIED ACCOUNTS AVAILABLE" in a Facebook group, also made a similar offer in February 2024. Interestingly, this seller's personal Facebook page lists Multan, Pakistan as the location and its cover photo features Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Nick Clegg, Meta's president of global affairs, last year asserted Meta is the leader in protecting online elections.

"No tech company does more or invests more to protect elections online than Meta – not just during election periods but at all times. We have around 40,000 people working on safety and security, with more than $20 billion invested in teams and technology in this area since 2016," he said.

Image Source: Unsplash




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