Kumar Sambhav has reported for India’s prime news outlets, including Business Standard, Scroll.in, Hindustan Times, Down To Earth, Times of India on governance, business and social justice. For his reporting, Sambhav has received the Press Council of India National Award for Excellence in Journalism, Shriram Award for Excellence in Financial Journalism, Global Investigative Journalism Network's Global Shining Light Award, and the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist from the Developing World Award.
Facebook’s algorithm favours polarising political groups that keep users hooked to newsfeed; BJP fits the bill with its content and gets cheaper ads. If a political party or its proxies have pumped in enough advertisements and campaigned heavily, often with emotionally or politically charged content, to increase “engagement” on Facebook, its advertisements would automatically work out cheaper.
To provide one million views for an ad, Facebook charged all advertisers promoting BJP Rs 39,552 rupees on an average. But for Congress, it charged 52,150 rupees, nearly 32% more. The favourable pricing allows BJP, Facebook's largest political client in India, to reach more voters for less money. The Collective’s findings validate Supreme Court concerns that Facebook’s policies and algorithm pose a threat to electoral politics and democracy.
The Collective’s year-long investigation found that an ecosystem of proxy advertisers is flourishing on Facebook, bypassing election laws, breaking Facebook’s own rules and undercutting the political level-playing field. Surrogate advertisements worth more than 58 million rupees, most of which promoted BJP, denigrated opposition and seeded false narratives, got a whopping 1.3 billion views for a period of 22 months, almost equal to the advertisements officially placed by BJP. They helped double BJP’s visibility without the party having to take responsibility for the content or the expenditure related to their advertisements.
The Jio-funded company, NEWJ, placed advertisements disguised as news. The advertisements triggered anti-Muslim sentiments, attacked BJP’s opponents and critics through distorted information and eulogised Modi government. Though it is illegal to publish such surrogate ads under Indian laws, loopholes in how the Election Commission applies the law give social media platforms a free pass.
Despite prior warnings from its scientists in late February, India’s government did not put in place a testing and surveillance strategy against the Covid-19 outbreak till end March, by which time its own medical experts expressed frustration at the inaction
“Absent any other control measure, lifting lockdown would allow a resurgence of transmission:” India’s top medical-research body told the government in the first week of April. Two weeks into the lockdown, the measures were still not in place
After the Supreme Court restricted the use of Aadhaar, documents show the Telangana government offered to help the Union govt build an intrusive citizen database modelled on the state's Samagram system
Manoranjan Kumar, once a staunch supporter of the controversial National Social Registry, now fears its misuse by the government
Documents obtained under RTI show the govt is planning to use Aadhaar to automatically track every single Indian – from who they marry, address changes, financial status – through the National Social Registry
From predicting millions of voting choices to deleting inconvenient voters, a world of manipulative possibilities could be opened by the government’s decision—controversially pushed through Parliament—to link Aadhaar, India’s national identity database, and election commission data.
The move could stop millions of poor children without Aadhaar from having healthy meal, and violates a Supreme Court order that no subsidy or service may be denied to children for want of Aadhaar