Google bans eight different Tory election adverts as disinformation concerns mount

Conservatives accused of using ‘fake news’ and disinformation to win election

Jon Stone
Sunday 01 December 2019 02:24 GMT
Boris Johnson refuses to commit to BBC interview with Andrew Neil

Google has banned eight different adverts paid for by the Conservatives over the last month because they broke its rules, The Independent can reveal.

The move by the search giant comes amid mounting concerns about the Tories’ use of disinformation and fake news as campaigning tools at the general election.

Transparency data released by the search giant this week shows that the adverts “violated Google’s advertising policies” and had been removed.

Six of the banned adverts were put up by the Tories on the day of the Labour manifesto launch – when the Conservative Party set up a fake website called purporting to contain the opposition’s policies.

During that incident, the Tories paid Google to push its fake version of the Labour manifesto to the top of search results for those searching for the deal document.

That incident followed another earlier in the week in which the Tories set up a fake fact-checking service, which they used to pump out party lines from their press office to unsuspecting social media users.

Google would not disclose the content of the Tory adverts that were pulled nor the exact reasons that they were taken down. The company’s guidelines however say “we value honesty and fairness, so we don’t allow the promotion of products or services that are designed to enable dishonest behaviour”.

It also specifically lists “fake documents” as one of the things that cannot be promoted in advertisements and says “we don’t allow ads or destinations that deceive users”.

None of the election’s other major parties had adverts pulled in recent months, according to the records. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, however, had five adverts pulled at the end of October for policy violations.

Many of the banned adverts were aired on the day of Labour’s manifesto launch

Tory adverts still visible that were not taken down still include links purporting to send users to “Corbyn’s Labour manifesto” which point to “” – the Tories’ site. Other uncensored adverts purport to be a link to “Labour’s Brexit Policy”, “Labour Party Education Policy”, and “Labour’s Defence Policy” but instead send users to the Conservative website.

“The fact that the Conservatives are resorting to fake news shows that they have no plans or desire to improve the lives of people in Britain,” said Ian Lavery, Labour’s chair.

Google has yet to confirm the news

“While Labour is running the biggest, people-powered campaign for real change in a generation, the Tories are relying on cynical and dishonest tactics.

“The choice at this election could not be clearer. Real change with Labour, or more dishonesty and inequality under the Conservatives.”

The Independent approached Google last week after their transparency report showed one advert by the Conservatives had been pulled in early November. The company said the advert had been taken down in error – but would give no further details about its content or why it was taken down when pressed.

The company said a new transparency report released this week would correct the record. The new transparency report, however, showed that even more adverts by the party had been taken down; a spokesperson for Google then said they would not disclose the reasons for the violations.

Other than the Google ads and the the fake fact-checking service, the Tories have been criticised for other uses of disinformation or fake news. The latest scandal on Friday erupted after it emerged the party had edited footage of BBC reporters to make it look like they were endorsing Tory attack-lines about a “Brexit delay”. The party was also previously criticised for doctoring a video of Labour Brexit chief Keir Starmer. On another occasion, a candidate in a marginal seat was caught on camera setting up a fake encounter with a swing voter to try and deceive a journalist.

The European Commission warned ahead of the UK general election that disinformation was still a problem and that there might be a case for EU-level intervention to reign it in.

UK political parties have spent a total of £358,800 on adverts with Google since March this year. The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

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