Sunday, 29 July 2018

Did the Tories continue their Facebook dark ad campaign during the Manchester Arena bombing pause?

After Facebook were pressurised into releasing a trance of highly deceptive dark ads posted by Vote Leave and their affiliates during the EU referendum, it soon became clear that these despicable Brexit campaigners continued flooding Facebook with their pro-Brexit propaganda during the 3 day pause in campaigning after the murder of Jo Cox by a right-wing extremist.

It's absolutely sickening that these Brexiteers colluded to take advantage of Jo Cox's murder by secretively continuing their dark ad campaign during the pause that they publicly agreed to participate in, but this behaviour raises another question that's extremely difficult to answer.

Given that multiple contributors to the Vote Leave campaign are high profile Tories, including several current and past members of Theresa May's cabinet (Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Priti Patel, Chris Grayling, Steve Baker), and the fact that the Tories spent £millions on a very similar campaign of targeted social media dark ads during the 2017 General Election, it's definitely worth wondering whether they also took advantage of the pause in campaigning after the Manchester Arena terrorist atrocity to continue pumping out dark ads on the sly.

The problem of course is that it's pretty much impossible to know because of the UK's incredibly lax attitude towards regulating online political campaigning.

This article certainly doesn't constitute an allegation that the Tories did continue their campaign of dark ads during the pause in campaigning after the Manchester Arena bombing, it's simply stating that due to the incredibly lax nature of the current electoral rules, it's impossible to know whether they did or not - which is obviously completely unacceptable.

It is however justifiable to at least wonder whether they did, given the very similar targeted dark ads strategy, and the involvement of at least half a dozen of the same people in both campaigns.

The only reason we've come to learn about the leave campaign's dodgy ads and grotesque scheming to take advantage of the Jo Cox pause is the testimony of whistleblowers from within the Leave camp and because a committee of MPs demanded the evidence from Facebook (who eventually, and reluctantly, coughed up details of the absolute lies they'd helped to spread).

So if we want to know about the content, reach, and timing of all Tory dark ad campaign during the 2017 General Election, we'd need whistleblowers from within the Tory election campaign to step forward, and a Tory-dominated committee of MPs to demand evidence from Facebook about what dark ads the Tories were running, and when!

Essentially the Tory party are the only ones who get to decide how much the public get to know about their own massive targeted dark ad campaign during the 2017 General Election!

In my view the entire system of electoral regulation needs to be updated to take account of targeted social media dark ads as a matter of urgency.

There should be a system put in place where all online political campaign ads must be registered with the Electoral Commission before publication, the registered information should include copies of the campaign advert, details of all hyperlinks within the ad, time of posting, cost of posting, and details of who the ad was targeted at (with geographic targeting of particular regions classified as local campaign spending). All of this information should be uploaded onto a publicly accessible and easily searchable database.

The consequence for non-compliance should be mandatory jail time for rule breakers.

As long as political parties and campaign groups are left free to spend £millions on targeted social media dark ads full of lies and misinformation without any oversight or public scrutiny of what they're doing, then it's beyond obvious that the outcomes of democratic votes cannot be trusted.

Incidentally, this means that if anyone calls for a second Brexit referendum before the electoral rules have been tightened up to clamp down on this kind of online electoral cheating, they're being dangerously naive.

What you can do
  • Share this article to raise awareness of the problem of targeted social media dark ads.
  • Contact your local MP to express your concerns about targeted social media dark ads, and to demand better regulation.
  • Contact mainstream media journalists you admire and ask them to push for better regulation of online political campaigning, and for serious punishments for those who break the rules.
  • Support independent media by making small monthly donations to the independent media sites you appreciate.

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