Will regulation on digital campaigning be strong enough for an early election?

Politics Explained: The Electoral Commission wants strict controls on all such material, but politicians may be less keen, says Andrew Grice

Saturday 10 August 2019 12:37 BST
For online campaigns, there are virtually no rules: electoral law dates back to 2000
For online campaigns, there are virtually no rules: electoral law dates back to 2000 (AFP/Getty)

One of the first things the Conservatives did after Boris Johnson became leader was to test different ads about him on Facebook. It wasn’t a surprise, as his senior Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings relied heavily on social media as director of the Vote Leave campaign at the 2016 referendum.

Labour, which outgunned the Tories on social media at the 2017 general election, will not want to be outspent during the normally quiet summer period and will respond in kind. Anyone would think another election is coming, and it probably is.

But the contest will come too soon for regulators, MPs and pressure groups who want tougher controls over online “dark ads” targeting individuals off the public radar. The days when political parties spent millions on nationwide poster campaigns and full-page newspaper ads are over. They see social media ads as more effective, and they are much cheaper. The parties’ national spending on Facebook ads rose from about £1.3m at the 2015 election to about £3.2m at the 2017 contest.

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