Elec­toral body to seek fund­ing de­tails for party dig­i­tal ad­verts

The Guardian - - NEWS - Ra­jeev Syal

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.

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