Aug 19, 2019 | Updated: 08:55 AM EDT

Political Advertising on Facebook Cause Inequalities and Why Electoral Regulations Must Tackle It

May 07, 2019 02:08 PM EDT

Political Advertising on Facebook Cause Inequalities and Why Electoral Regulations Must tackle it
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Experts have noted that it calls for concern the way political advertising on Facebook creates new types of inequalities for campaigners and why regulators must find a way of monitoring and addressing the issue.

They use the online platform increasingly during elections, but it is essential to track the impact of political advertising and how politicians are using this tool.

There is a call for a change from the Electoral Commission in the law, and political adverts are marked clearly with the name of whoever has paid for them. But a new study suggests regulation must also take into account how Facebook algorithms mean the same advertising spend has different results.

According to the researchers, any new regulations must show more understanding of the differences in the online campaign, and do more to capture the actual spend on political adverts on Facebook.

Traditional campaigning regulations are based on the theory that spending by each political party leads to a similar result, for instance, if political parties spent the same amount on leaflets the literature would reach a similar number of people.

The study, published in Political Quarterly, by Dr. Katharine Dommett from the University of Sheffield and Dr. Sam Power from the University of Exeter says this cannot apply to Facebook advertising where the impact is dependent on the audience the advertiser wants to reach. This means different spend will have different results. Adverts in a marginal constituency will be more expensive as will adverts that are directed at an audience that is in high demand from advertisers.

In Dr. Dommett's words, as digital political campaigning grows, it is now increasingly difficult for existing regulators to capture the true extent of what is happening online, let alone whether these practices violate democratic norms. The unreliability of existing data on the use of Facebook needs to be acknowledged by regulators if campaigning spending is to be effectively interpreted and understood.

As part of their study, Dr. Dommett and Dr. Power reviewed in detail at spending on Facebook by political parties. There has been a significant rise in spending on digital advertising in recent years. In 2014, only £30,000 - 1.7 percent of the overall advertising budget, was spent on online advertising, yet by 2017 this figure had risen to £4.3 million - 42.8 percent.

Also, party spending returns reveal that just over £3.16 million was spent on Facebook advertising by all UK parties at the 2017 general election, compared with just over £1 million on Google, £54,000 on Twitter, just under £25,000 on Amazon and just £239,000 on traditional advertising in national and regional media outlets.

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