Electoral body to seek funding details for party digital adverts
Political parties will be told to disclose to the public who is paying for digital advertisements, the elections watchdog has announced, after concerns raised by Theresa May that Russia had influenced UK elections.
The Electoral Commission will also ask political parties to provide a detailed breakdown of how much money is spent on digital advertising, after it was deemed that the public needs more information about who is behind adverts pushed on social media.
The move comes as MPs on the House of Commons media committee prepare to begin an inquiry into whether Moscow has tried to interfere in British politics. The committee is due to hear from representatives of Twitter and Facebook as part of an inquiry into fake news.
On Monday night, May used her annual Mansion House speech to accuse Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media to sow discord in the west. She said: “It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and Photoshopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions.
“So I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of western nations to the alliances that bind us. The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.”
The commission’s recommendations include demanding that political parties and non-party campaigners should be required to include an imprint stating who has published an advertisement. This would enable voters to identify who is spending money trying to influence them at elections, it said.
Sir John Holmes, the chair of the commission, said: “Most candidates, parties and campaigners comply with the rules. However, failures to comply can reduce transparency and damage voters’ confidence in elections, which is why breaches must be dealt with effectively.
“We want to work with the UK’s governments and legislatures to ensure further transparency about spending on digital and online campaigns, and to reassure voters accordingly.
“These changes should be in place ahead of the next scheduled national elections.”
Campaigners should also be required to report breakdowns of spending, including different types of advertising such as online and social media promotion.
The commission recommends its investigative and sanctioning powers be extended to include offences relating to candidate spending and donations.
It also published figures showing that 3,304 candidates contested the general election on 8 June, spending more than £13.7m fighting the campaign.