Blog posts about the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising

An international framework for political ad reform

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We started the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising in May last year when, so far as we knew, there was no plan to reform it. Our campaign his developed at a rapid pace since then. An early supporter of our aims was the UK advertising trade body ISBA, and we’ve since gained support from numerous other organisations in the ad industry, and companies, citizens and not-for-profits outside of it, along the way.

In February 2019 the UK Government’s Disinformation & “Fake News” Inquiry delivered a robust set of recommendations to tackle disinformation, supporting several of the goals we’ve been advocating for political ad reform. The Chair of the Inquiry, Damian Collins MP, also put out a call to the ad industry for a political ad code in September last year that supported all our aims.

Exactly the same issues face digitally mature democracies across the globe, of course. While political ad reform is now being discussed in various countries, we wanted to share key principles we’ve developed in case like-minded organisations want to take up lobbying in countries outside the UK.

This list isn’t by any means exhaustive. In putting our 4-point plan together we wanted to gain momentum for the campaign by targeting areas it was hard to argue against, and which would also have the biggest impact.  You can view other suggestions for political ad reform in the UK’s Disinformation & Fake News Inquiry report here.

Our intention isn’t ourselves to mount similar campaigns abroad to the one we are running in the UK. We are sharing our overall framework as a starting point that can and should develop over time, and may also need to be adapted to local regulation and issues.

The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising is a not-for-profit and we have no desire to have ownership of the framework or its content. We are sharing these ideas as an urgent starting point for reform in other digitally mature countries.  If you’d like to get in touch to discuss them, or for advice on how you can set up a similar campaign in  your own country, please contact alex.tait@reformpoliticaladvertising.org.

Reform we believe should be common to all digitally mature democracies.

1/  Legislate so that all paid-for political adverts can be viewed by the public.

A searchable repository of online political advertising should be developed, including information on when each advertisement was posted, at whom it was targeted, and how much was spent on it. There should be a requirement for all political advertising work to be listed for public display so that, even if the work does not require regulatory clearance, it is accountable, clear, and available for all to see. The repository should be run and managed independently of the advertising industry and political parties.

Facebook and Google have already made changes of their own accord, which deserve to be commended, but we need industry-wide standards rather than just platform-specific solutions.

2/  Introduce compulsory imprints or watermarks to show the origin of online adverts. In the UK, registered political parties and campaign groups are currently required by law to include an imprint (read: watermark) on hard copy election materials which makes clear who is responsible for the advertising.

There is, however, no such requirement for digital communications.

Given that almost anyone can make and disseminate digital political advertising, knowing what is “official” and what is being posted by over-eager supporters will become an increasingly important way for voters to discern how seriously to take political messages they happen upon. A requirement for a digital imprint would be one way of helping them to do this.

Reform we believe is right for the UK and that you should consider for your country.

3/  Require all objective factual claims used in political adverts to be  substantiated.

If a campaign wants to make an apparently objective and quantifiable claim in its political advertising, that claim should be accurate and stand up to independent scrutiny.

We’re not calling for an end to hopeful promises or scaremongering about what the other side might do: we’re simply saying that if you want to position something as a fact, the public have a right to be confident that it is just that.

The UK has a pre-clearance process already in place for misleading claims via its BCAP and CAP advertising codes for all TV and VOD consumer advertising. We believe that for the UK this process should apply to political claims of objective fact also.

4/  Create a body to regulate political advertising.

We need a body to oversee the content of political advertising. There is no regulation of this in the UK, and that fact is a principal cause of many of the recent problems.

The UK parliament could resolve that by extending the remit of either the Electoral Commission, the Advertising Standards Authority or the Election Committee of Ofcom – or it could set up an alternative body.

The above 4 points constitute the 4-point plan we launched with in May. However, we think the following areas also require urgent consideration.

Targeting

In the UK, the Disinformation & Fake News Inquiry has recommended that a “Code of Practice which highlights the use of personal information in political campaigning and applying to all data controllers who process personal data for the purpose of political campaigning should be underpinned by primary legislation.”

We also think the following principles are important

1. When regulation is discussed there is often an understandable focus on digital, as there has been in the DCMS report. There is no doubt that regulation of political advertising woefully needs to be brought up to date with the digital world we now live in. However, to take regulation of factual claims as an example, it needs to apply to all media, not only to digital

2. Similarly, because there has been extensive news coverage of privacy issues on Facebook, it can be tempting to single out that platform as being in need of reform. While Facebook is obviously a very important actor, the digital marketing ecosystem is complex, as anyone who works in marketing will testify. Social platforms are important, but the need is for updated regulation to cover the entire digital marketing ecosystem if we are to counter disinformation and fake news effectively.

3. We’d add that advertisers increasingly look at their communications in terms of a “customer journey” that takes account of all the touchpoints with consumers in the fragmented media landscape we now inhabit. From a UK perspective, we agree with the Independent Commission on Referendums that “An inquiry should be conducted into the regulation of political advertising across print, broadcast and online media, to consider what form regulation should take for each medium and whether current divergences of approach remain justified.” For example, account needs to be taken not only of paid adverts, but also of what marketers call “owned media”: all the communication channels under an entity’s control, such as websites, blogs, email – and also “earned media”, such as publicity resulting from editorial influence of various kinds.

April 2019

 

 

 

2019 Election advertising

Over the next few weeks, with the help of a number of volunteers, we will be identifying paid advertising that appears to be misleading and contacting the parties concerned asking them to justify the claims, or amend or withdraw them. As visitors to this website will be aware, political advertising is currently unregulated and it seems like it’s way beyond time at least to ask political parties to observe the same rules that all other advertisers are required to observe, i.e. to be Legal, Decent, Honest and Truthful.

Unless misleadingness is blatantly obvious, we will be referencing various fact-checking sources where those have ‘ruled’ on the issue. Examples of misleading advertising will be posted on the website: we hope that these pages will become a central reference source of misleading political advertising and, more importantly, encouragement to political parties to think harder about the claims they are making in advertising. Everyone else has to.

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.”

The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s campaign pledge for responsible election campaigning

General-election-2019

Our campaign currently has the support of The Green Party, Independent Group for Change, The Renew Party and Volt UK so far. We are a politically neutral organisation and we are approaching all political parties to sign up to our campaign pledge for the UK general election.

Trust in politics and political advertising is certainly at a low. It is hard to believe but amazingly since the 2015 election and referendum there have been no changes of significance in the rules around political advertising. In the absence of this our campaign pledge is looking to establish greater transparency and accuracy in how political parties run their campaigns in the general election.

It is based on our 4-point plan for political ad reform.  We put our plan together as points we felt would be hard to argue against, so easiest to gain consensus around while also having the biggest impact. There are obviously various other areas that should be carefully considered as required by law (for example, spending limits and controls that have been looked at by the Electoral Commission). Also ensuring your campaign is compliant with GDPR.

We propose the pledge adopted should be simply:

We the <name of party> will practice responsible election campaigning and pledge to:

  1. Always include in our digital advertising information so that voters can identify the ad as ours.
  2. Publish our digital paid-for advertising content on a publicly available webpage.
  3. Share the substantiation of any objective factual claims used in ads on a publicly available webpage or on the ad itself.
  4. Revise or suspend any claims that that our nominated independent fact checking services find to be misleading.

1. Always include in our digital advertising information so that voters can identify the ad as ours.

Imprints / watermarks on all digital ads should be as per the Electoral Commission’s suggestion that “all electronic campaigning should have easily-accessible digital imprint requirements, including information on the publishing organisation and who is legally responsible for the spending”.

2. Publish our paid-for digital advertising content on a publicly available webpage.*

  • who is paying for the ads
  • which organisations are sponsoring the ads
  • the audience targeted by the ads. 

The above criteria are recommended by the DCMS Disinformation & “Fake News” report and are to ensure transparency of campaign messaging and to avoid “dark ads”. We believe that this would be a temporary measure until the “publicly accessible searchable repository [for political ads] run independently of political parties and the ad industry”, recommended in the report, is available.*

3. Share the substantiation of any objective factual claims used in ads on a publicly available webpage or on the ad itself.

Substantiate objective factual claims. This substantiation could be included in the ad itself or published independently and publicly together with any digital ads being used in the campaign.

4. Revise or suspend any claims that a nominated independent fact checking service find to be misleading.

All non-political ads which appear on TV or VOD and make factual claims are already, in ad terminology, “pre -cleared” by an organisation called Clearcast. This is an advisory service for advertisers which they can choose to ignore. However, the  Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rules on complaints which are submitted to it, and will take into account Clearcast advice in any ruling.

In the absence of a code or a regulator for political ads we suggest using common sense in weighing the accuracy of your substantiation. You should, however, publish the source of the substantiation in the ad itself or on the same webpage as your digital ads. If one of our nominated fact checking services find the objective factual claims to be misleading the advertiser should take on board that feedback and consider revising or suspending adverts containing those claims. This is a “proxy” for the role a regulator would / should play when legislation is brought up to date.

Our nominated fact checking services are Full Fact, Channel 4 FactCheck and BBC Reality Check.

If your party would like to discuss the pledge with us please contact Alex at alex.tait@reformpoliticaladvertising.org.

Please follow us on Twitter @clearpolitic5 and sign up to support our campaign here.

October, 2019.

Volt UK is the latest political party to join The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising

volt

We are delighted that ahead of the upcoming UK general election Volt UK has signed up to the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s campaign to modernise the rules around political advertising.

Alex Gunter, Volt UK:

“Technology has enabled new forms of political advertising that can reach voters more than ever before yet it has also opened the door for bad and misleading campaigning. Volt UK therefore supports the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising to make political advertising transparent, fair and honest.”

Alex Tait, Co-founder, The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising:

“In the UK general election we are going to have a rerun of all the issues from the 2015 election and Brexit referendum including lies in paid ads and non transparent advertising. This is because rather amazingly the rules around political advertising still haven’t been modernised. We welcome Volt UK joining our coalition and demanding that changes. We encourage all the other political parties to do the same. Volt UK joins The Green Party, Independent Group for Change and Renew Party in supporting our campaign.”