Government to bring forward new rules for online political campaigning - but it won’t apply to all

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:19 12 August 2020

Facebook advertising during the EU referendum campaign. Photograph: Facebook.

Facebook advertising during the EU referendum campaign. Photograph: Facebook.

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The government has announced it is planning take action over online political advertising, claiming it is responding to concerns raised about the 2016 Brexit referendum.

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Despite much of the questionable content from the Brexit referendum originating from the Vote Leave campaign, which was masterminded by Boris Johnson and key adviser Dominic Cummings, the government has insisted it is acting on concerns.

The move comes after the government promised to bring forward measures to ensure greater transparency in online campaigning in the Queen’s Speech last December.

Ministers have now started consulting on plans for political parties and other campaigners, which could require them to display a “digital imprint” identifying who they are when they promote content online.

An imprint would be similar to the same way that other materials such as leaflets and posters must show who is promoting them.

The regulations would cover material intended to achieve the electoral success of registered political parties and candidates, or material related to a referendum, all year around regardless of elections or referendums.

It would also cover content produced by registered political parties, registered third parties, political candidates, elected office holders and registered referendum campaigners - both paid-for and organic.

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But it will only apply to unregistered campaigners if they are promoting paid-for content, meaning unofficial organisations will be able to continue to be unaccountable with organic posts.

And the government’s proposals will do nothing to tackle misinformation, like in the last election, when 90% of Tory advertisements were said to have been misleading.

Constitution minister Chloe Smith insisted the latest proposals represent a “big step forward”, bringing the same level of transparency to online campaigning as to other regulated activity.

“People want to engage with politics online. That’s where campaigners connect with voters and is why, ahead of elections, almost half of political advertising budgets are now spent on digital content and activity,” she said.

“But people want to know who is talking. Voters value transparency, so we must ensure that there are clear rules to help them see who is behind campaign content online.

“The measures we have outlined today are a big step forward towards making UK politics even more transparent and would lead to one of the most comprehensive set of regulations operating in the world today.”

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