Exclusive research by The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising demonstrates that heavy Facebook users tend to hold more extreme political views

  • The research conducted using one of the market leaders in panel and census internet data appears to demonstrate that heavy Facebook users tend to have more extreme political views.
  • We propose that the findings have implications for how disinformation and extreme views can spread on Facebook. For example, due to the way algorithms on social platforms work this can often mean that more extreme views get a disproportionate share of impressions.
  • We argue that this data reinforces the need for there to be rules for claims in political advertising and content.
  • Facebook is often criticised for not fact-checking political ads and content. However, the solution lies in political advertising coming under the same kind of scrutiny as all other advertising – not in individual media owners applying their own rules.

Alex Tait, Co-Founder of the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising comments:

“The debate in the UK election has never been more polarised. It is also proving to contain an unprecedented amount of misinformation and disinformation from the political parties. It has often been said that false information travels faster than truth in social media. That’s partly because it is fertile ground for spreading misleadingness in political information as its heavy users are very engaged. This research supports that and emphasises further the urgent need to modernise the rules for political ads.”

The research

 We have taken the reach of newspaper websites, and used that as a proxy for internet users’ political opinions using a methodology developed by YouGov.

These appear to show that heavier users of Facebook are more likely to hold political views towards the extremes of the political spectrum.

The chart below shows the percentage of heavy, moderate and light Facebook users visiting each of the websites along the x axis.

Screenshot 2019-12-04 at 13.43.11

When we look at indices, we also see heavier Facebook users exhibiting the more extreme behaviours, as the charts below demonstrate.

So, for example, heavy Facebook users are 7.25 times more likely to visit Labour.org.uk or 9.3 times more likely to visit Conservatives.com than the average internet user (625 and 930 respectively against an index of 100 representing the average internet user).

Screenshot 2019-12-04 at 13.43.22

This chart shows (against an index of 100 for the average Facebook user) how much heavy, moderate and light Facebook users visit each of the websites along the x axis. We have again attempted to rank the websites from left to right in their political persuasion. To give another example, a heavy Facebook user is 7.25 times more likely to visit Breitbart.com than the average Facebook user (725 against an index of 100 representing the average Facebook user).

Screenshot 2019-12-04 at 13.43.30

Research methodology

 ‘Heavy’ Facebook users are defined as the top 20% by time spent, the ‘moderate’ the next 30% and the ‘light’ the bottom 50%.

We used one of the market leaders in online panel and census methodology data. Their approach combines person-level measurement from a global panel with census-informed tonnage of consumption to account for 100 percent of a property’s audience.

Participating companies place tags on all their content – web pages, videos, apps and ads, and these calls are recorded by the measurement providers servers every time content is accessed. The provider is able to view these calls on its global panel in addition to measuring the census tag calls. This perspective allows the measurement provider to validate that the tags are measuring activities consistent with its audience measurement methodology. Additionally, the company has developed a proprietary methodology to combine panel and server-side metrics in order to calculate audience reach in a manner that is not affected by variables such as cookie deletion and cookie blocking/rejection.

For more information about the research or the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s campaign contact alex.tait@reformpoliticaladvertising.org.uk.


The Yorkshire Party Supports the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s campaign to stop misleading political ads

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The Yorkshire Party has announced its support for the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising and its aim to modernise the outdated rules for political advertising.

The Yorkshire Party joins, amongst others, the Green Party, the Independent Group for Change and the UK’s advertising trade body ISBA, in supporting the campaign. The group has called for the other main parties to support the Coalition and its recommendations.

The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising is a volunteer-run, politically-neutral project, which was founded in May 2018. Its recommendations are summarised in a four-point plan, which promotes transparency and accuracy in political campaigning:

  1. Legislate so that all paid-for political adverts can be viewed by the public
  2. Give an existing body the power to regulate political advertising content or create a new one to do so
  3. Require all objective factual claims used in political adverts to be substantiated
  4. Compulsory imprints or watermarks to show the origin of online adverts

Chris Whitwood, Leader of the Yorkshire Party, said:

“This is turning out to be the disinformation election. It has certainly provided all the evidence we need to demonstrate the urgency in updating the out of date the rules for political advertising. We fully support the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s 4 point plan for reform.”

Alex Tait, co-founder of the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising, added:

“We are delighted the Yorkshire Party are showing strong leadership on this issue and supporting the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s campaign. It is amazing that despite all the media coverage and various inquiries since the last election and Brexit referendum there have been no changes of significance to the rules in this area. We now need the other parties to join the call for change including rules around misleading claims in ads.”



The Women’s Equality Party announces support for the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising

Women's Equality Party logo

We are delighted that the Women’s Equality Party has today announced that it supports our campaign to modernise the outdated rules around political advertising.

In support of the campaign Mandu Reid, the Interim Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, stated:

“The Women’s Equality Party is committed to using technology for good, but while our analogue laws drift further from people’s digital realities, there is too much potential for technology being used to spread disinformation to manipulate people in ever more targeted ways. We therefore support the aims of Coalition for Reform’s campaign.
Parliament must put aside political motivations for unfettered digital advertising campaigns, and grapple with legislation to regulate the content of online advertising and the ways it is targeted to people. Otherwise it risks the electorate’s already low trust in politics being further eroded.”

Alex Tait, Co-founder of the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising commented:

“We are absolutely delighted to have the support of the Women’s Equality Party. Is there any reason why any political party won’t support what we are advocating as part of their election campaign? Even the Chair and CEO of the Advertising Association said earlier this week in a Lord’s committee there should be rules to stop lies in political advertising. With the current toxic environment we have around politics the modernisation of the rules around political ads has never been more urgent.”