Some Thoughts on Reforming Online Political Advertising

New government measures proposed yesterday will mean political parties and campaigners must explicitly show who they are when promoting campaign content online, and according to surveys this has overwhelming public support. The proposals call for digital imprints to apply to all types of campaign content regardless of the country it is being promoted from, across all digital platforms. The regime is also intended to apply at all times, not just during elections.

The editor will declare an interest here, he has since 2007 had a financial interest in a digital advertising agency that has worked for all the major parties at one time or another; unions, charities, single-issue campaigns and blue-chip corporates who want to influence politicos. He’s been involved in the digital side of referendum campaigns, two mayoral campaigns for a chap who went on to greater things and election campaigns around the world. Having bought and sold countless billions of political adverts for over a decade, here are some observations about the government’s proposals to make political advertising more transparent:

  • More transparency about who is paying for advertising is a good thing.
  • The Electoral Commission rightly says: “We are not in a position to monitor the truthfulness of campaign claims, online or otherwise. However, changing the law so that digital material has to have an imprint will help voters to assess the credibility of campaign messages. Voters will know who the source is and be more able to decide how credible it is.” This is wise, the voters are the ones charged in a democracy to decide truthfulness.
  • The £100,000 third-party spending limit in England is anti-democratic. If the Unite union or the Taxpayers’ Alliance want to reach the 38 million voters across the nation, it can’t be done for a tiny fraction of a penny per voter. This just incentivises rule-bending, with the creation of dubious, albeit legal, front sub-campaigns, which counter-productively actually reduces transparency. The limit should be at least £1 million.
  • The full imprint on tiny adverts should be accessible by a standard little clickable symbol, not a wording in a small print.

Political advertising increases voter turnout, spreads new ideas and adds to democratic engagement. It is an important contributor to the democratic process and is to be preferred to behind the scenes lobbying done without any public knowledge. The thing about advertising is that it is done in public and is inherently an open form of political communication.

However, just as little could be done to stop Moscow gold reaching the Morning Star for decades, realistically nothing in the proposals will prevent foreign powers slush funding front groups with laundered money. Should we worry too much? You can’t really “buy an election” with adverts, because people exercise their own judgment, advertising doesn’t control people, it highlights issues and ideas, it calls voters to action. Advertising will not polish a t**d, it just covers it in glitter…

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mdi-timer August 13 2020 @ 15:26 mdi-share-variant mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-printer
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