EletiofeA Far-Right Indian News Site Posts Racist Conspiracies. US...

A Far-Right Indian News Site Posts Racist Conspiracies. US Tech Companies Keep Platforming It

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“The goal is to amplify this disinformation, and you have BJP leaders sharing this, so people think it’s authentic,” says Naik. “In the long term, this kind of builds the case against a critic, a journalist, that this person is bad, because there is reporting against them.”

When WIRED contacted OpIndia for comment, Sharma responded to our emailed questions by posting her responses on X.

When asked about hate speech and disinformation on her site, Sharma wrote: “Our critics are mostly Islamists, Jihadis, Terrorists, Leftists and their sympathizers—like yourself. We don’t particularly care about any of them.” She then added that “Islamophobia does not exist” and pointed to an OpIndia article that outlines her position. Sharma added that it was “none of your concern” when asked if OpIndia was funded by the BJP. Sharma’s post also tagged one of the authors of this story, who then faced a torrent of abuse from Sharma’s followers.

For years, activists and researchers have tried to highlight the problematic content published by OpIndia. A 2020 campaign from UK-based advocacy group Stop Funding Hate led to a number of advertisers removing their ads from the site. Google, however, says the content published on the site does not appear to breach its own rules.

“All sites in our network, including Opindia, must adhere to our publisher policies, which explicitly prohibit ads from appearing alongside content promoting hate speech, violence, or demonstrably false claims that could undermine trust or participation in an election,” Google spokesperson Michael Aciman says. “Publishers are also subject to regular reviews, and we actively block or remove ads from any violating content.”

Despite this, users can find ads for Temu or the Palm Beach Post next to many OpIndia articles promoting conspiracies and Islamophobia, placed with the help of ad-exchange platforms like Google’s Ad Manager, which is the market leader.

Facebook, meanwhile, says Wiley, is more of a “walled garden.” Once a publisher meets the company’s criteria for monetization, including having more than 1,000 followers, it can earn money from ads that run on the page.

While researchers that spoke to WIRED were unable to tell exactly how much the site has made from Google Ads and Facebook monetization, they said it’s likely that OpIndia is not solely reliant on the ad exchange for its revenue. It appears that, as with many news outlets in India, part of that funding comes in the form of more traditional advertising from a major client: the government.

“A large section of India’s mainstream press depends on the government ads for their survival,” says Prashanth Bhat, professor of media studies at the University of Houston. “That revenue is critical for the mainstream media survival in a hypercompetitive media environment like in India. We have about 400 round-the-clock television news channels in India in different languages, and we have over 10,000 registered newspapers. For them to survive, they definitely need government patronage.”

Sharma confirmed that OpIndia is reliant in part on ads from the government. “Literally every media house gets advertising from various political parties,” said Sharma. “In fact, a part of your salary could also be funded by such parties and/or their sympathizers. Do get down from your high horse.”

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