Sunday, 28 May 2017

Beware of Tory dark ads

We all know that the Tories are bankrolled by a rogue's gallery of right-wing billionaires and that they're awash with cash for this general election right?

We also know that they have absolute contempt for the electoral rules after they deliberately misdeclared expenses at the 2015 general election don't we?

We also know the increasingly important role big data is playing in elections, and how psychological profiling and targeted social media adverts helped to swing the EU referendum and the 2016 US election right?

Tory dark ads

Well what the Tories have been up to during the 2017 general election is absolutely shocking. They've been creating all kinds of fearmongering shock adverts, paying Facebook to target them at people, and refusing to provide examples to the 
Electoral Commission of what they've been sending out.

What is worse is that in the days before the voter registration deadline they used their secretive dark ads to deliberately undermine a young adult voter registration drive, by replacing the voter registration adverts with their own nasty smear jobs on Jeremy Corbyn.

The charity that was running the voter registration drive realised that 
someone else was bidding for the same advertising slots when the price per click of their "register to vote" adverts spiked from about £1.07 to over £3.40.

To find out who was taking their advertising slots they set up dummy accounts fitting the profile of their target audience, and lo and behold the people gazumping their voter registration drive were the Tory party, who were clearly trying to disengage young people from politics by bombarding them with misleading anti-Corbyn smear jobs.

The electoral rules are hopelessly outdated

The Electoral Commission rules are farcically insufficient to deal with the issue of targeted adverts, especially since they seem unable to even get the Tories to reveal the contents of what they've been sending out.

The Tories will likely pretend that the £millions they're spending on these dark ads constitute part of their unlimited national campaign budget, so as to evade the local spending limits. But is it actually possible to think of a more local act of campaigning than targeting specific adverts at specific voters in specific constituencies?

Another problem with holding them to account is that the evasive Tories have been outright refusing to supply examples of the dark ads they're sending out to specific voters, so there's no way the electoral authorities can actually know whether the adverts themselves are national campaign material, or material that is tailored to the local constituency and should be allocated to the strictly limited local spending allocation.

What we can do

  • If you come across any of these secretive dark adverts from the Tory Party in your Facebook feed, make sure to screenshot them and send them to the Electoral Commission ( so that they have some idea of what the Tories are sending out in their dark ads. I'm dubious that they will actually do anything to clamp down on the practice, but at least if we send them evidence, they won't be able to pretend that they're unaware of the problem. 
  • Talk to people and let them know that the Tories are trying to rig the general election by pumping vast amounts of cash into dark ads to smear their political opponents (and that they undermined a voter registration drive in the process).
  • Vote against the Tories and try to persuade others to vote against them too. There's no way that using the cash their billionaire backers are showering on them to undermine democracy with their secretive dark ad campaign can be considered acceptable. Anyone who wants to see a level political playing field needs to vote against the Tories and their secretive,cynical and anti-democratic gaming of the system.

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