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…

mdi-timer 13 August 2020 @ 15:26 13 Aug 2020 @ 15:26 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Philip Lee is Lost

As co-conspirators will know Philip Lee has raised more money than he can legally spend in this general election. It really does look like he has money to burn. Take his digital advertising for example, Guido knows a little about targeted advertising, he also knows that Lee is standing for the LibDem’s in Wokingham, John Redwood’s constituency. So why is he targeting his advertising to Woking?

Does the former MP for Bracknell in Berkshire feel a little lost? Here’s a tip, aim your adverts at people who can actually vote for you….

mdi-timer 11 November 2019 @ 15:20 11 Nov 2019 @ 15:20 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
I’m Supporting #Positive Twitter Day on Friday, August 31

On August 31 back in 2012 Sunder Katwala and Guido promoted with temporary success, a “Positive Twitter Day“. Twitter, especially the political Twittersphere, can be a horrible nasty place, what with the culture wars and political extremists generally being unpleasant. None of us are immune from it. Wouldn’t it be pleasantly calming if for just one day we all tried to be nice and civil in our tweets? The idea came originally from the invariably polite Sunder Katwala and he agrees with Guido we should try again. We sorely need to try again…

If well known Twitter curmudgeons re-tweeted the hashtag #PositiveTwitterDay and entered into the spirit of the day on Friday, August 31, it might spread a bit of civility in these polarised times. Guido for his part is determined to have civil, positive discussions today with the likes of Owen or Raheem. The power of positive tweeting…

To tweet your support just click this link #PositiveTwitterDay

mdi-timer 16 August 2018 @ 16:19 16 Aug 2018 @ 16:19 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Red on Red McCluskey Attack Video Focuses on Murky Finances

This anti-McCluskey attack video aims to go viral online. It lists a number of the financial shenanigans that Len McCluskey has got up to. Will it reach voters? Unite’s last leadership election had only a 15% turnout with two-thirds of the votes going to Red Len. This time he has an even more left-wing opponent taking votes off him as well as a moderate rival. The battle for control of the Labour Party’s paymaster has important long-term ramifications for British politics…

mdi-timer 27 January 2017 @ 09:15 27 Jan 2017 @ 09:15 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Momentum Spent Thousands to Gain 0.4% Votes

Momentum have spent thousands on Facebook advertising to recruit supporters to Unite to vote for Len McCluskey in the union’s forthcoming election. People in the know estimate well over £10,000 was spent…

The Guardian reports that just an

“extra 659 people joined as community members in December compared with the previous month, part or all of which may be the result of the campaign group asking its supporters to join Unite to vote to keep McCluskey, a key ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In total the union has 1.4 million members, though only about 15% voted in the last election of its general secretary in 2013. Were all the new members to vote, the turnout could be expected to increase by around 4%.”

Not fake news just poor mathematics, the increased vote would be a mere 0.4%.  A rounding error…

mdi-timer 10 January 2017 @ 14:38 10 Jan 2017 @ 14:38 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Gerald Re-Elected!

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty won his fourth term in office last night, beating Democratic rival David Holmes. Guido congratulates his family and offers condolences to his staff…

mdi-timer 9 November 2016 @ 17:00 9 Nov 2016 @ 17:00 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
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