- The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising interviewed by James O’Brien on LBC
- Misleading political ad spotted, shamed and pulled
- Nuestro Marco Internacional para la Reforma Política de la Publicidad
- Vi har nå et valgløfte samt et overordnet rammeverk for politisk annonsereform
- Vi har nu både en pledge för vår kampanj såväl som ett övergripande ramverk för reform inom politisk annonsering.
- Blog posts about the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising
- We now have a campaign pledge as well as an overall framework for international political ad reform
- The Green Party supports the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising
- The Government’s response to the DCMS Disinformation and & Fake News report is significant further progress for our campaign
- The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s campaign pledge for responsible election campaigning
- Ett internationellt ramverk för reform av politisk annonsering och reklam
- Un cadru internațional pentru reforma politică a anunțurilor
- Benedict Pringle is taking a break from the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising.
- ОБЩЕМИРОВЫЕ ПРИНЦИПЫ ДЛЯ РЕФОРМЫ ПОЛИТИЧЕСКОЙ РЕКЛАМЫ
- Et internasjonalt rammeverk for reform av politiske annonser
- Um modelo internacional para a reforma de propagandas políticas
- إطار دولي لإصلاح الإعلانات السياسية
- An international framework for political ad reform
- Un cadre international pour la réforme de la publicité politique
- Un marco internacional para la reforma de los anuncios en campañas políticas.
- Die britische Koalition für die Reform politischer Werbung beginnt ihren internationalen Plan zur politischen Werbungsreform
- The DCMS Disinformation & “Fake News” Report is a leap forward for political ad reform but now the Government must act.
- The call for political ad reform grows louder…
- YouGov research commissioned by the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising & Full Fact demonstrates that UK voters would support the regulation of factual claims
- It’s time to separate the real from the make believe
- As the Disinformation & “Fake News” inquiry demonstrated yesterday political adverting reform is just common sense. Not only for the electorate but also the political parties.
- Does the government recognise and understand the urgency around issues that need addressing in modern UK elections?
- Political Advertising Code suggestions
- ISBA, the voice of UK advertisers, joins Damain Collin’s call for greater political advertising regulation
- Our advertising practitioners’ response to the DCMS report. Significant progress but we need a more holistic approach and further clarifications.
- Release of Vote Leave adverts bolster case for reforming political advertising
- Electoral Commission report diagnoses problems but ducks difficult solutions
- New ‘deepfake’ technology an emerging threat and another reason to regulate
- Leading advertiser body ISBA endorses Coalitions demands
- New coalition calls for changes to political advertising legislation
We are in the process of translating this page into 10 languages.
We started the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising in the UK in May last year when, so far as we could see, there was no other plan for reform. Our campaign has developed rapidly since then.
As well as endorsement by numerous organisations and individuals in the UK, we now have the support of two of the main UK political parties – The Independent Group for Change and, as of July, The Green Party. We are actively in conversation with the other main parties to persuade them too to support the changes we advocate. Our ambition is to sign up all the main parties.
As our campaign has progressed, it has become increasingly obvious that mature democracies across the globe are facing precisely the same problem – outdated rules for political advertising and disinformation in the digital age. Political ad reform is now being discussed in several countries, and we want to share the key principles we’ve developed in the hope that this will help like-minded organisations abroad with lobbying in their own countries.
We are sharing two international frameworks we have developed. These are, firstly, our International Framework for Political Ad Reform, launched in May this year and aimed at producing legislative change. You can read it here.
Secondly, this week we are launching an international campaign pledge that can be adopted by political parties ahead of any legislative change. In the UK and several other countries, there is a convention that at election time political parties sign up to principles or a “pledge” which they promise to abide by in the electoral process. If this precedent exists in the country you live in, and also if it doesn’t yet, we think that encouraging political parties and other advertisers to adopt the practice is an important way to accelerate political advertising reform. This is needed because, even once that significant milestone has been reached where a Government agrees to legislative change, the process of implementation usually takes quite a while. For example, in the UK two of the points in our four-point plan have so far been supported by the Government, but the change won’t come into force until 2020 or 2021.
We recommend that, particularly where the convention of pledging already exists, both frameworks should be used in parallel. As well as effecting change in how political advertisers conduct their campaigns, bringing greater integrity and transparency into electoral processes, the two-pronged approach can also increase awareness of the proposed solutions and build consensus. The International Framework for Political Ad Reform provides guidance on how to bring about the core changes to legislation that we are recommending.
As a politically neutral, not-for-profit organisation, we don’t want ownership of either of these approaches. We are just keen to share our ideas with other countries facing similar issues.
Needless to say, as with the initial framework, these points aren’t exhaustive. We selected the four points because they represented plain common sense and would be hard to argue against, so we could build agreement quickly. At the same time, these were the areas we believed would have the greatest impact. There are obviously other areas that will need to be considered carefully, and that will vary by country: for example, limits and controls around spending, and ensuring your campaign complies with privacy laws.
We’ve used some UK examples below, but let common sense be the judge of how far each point is appropriate in your country, how it can best be landed, and how the pledge itself should be worded.
We propose that the campaign pledge should be along the following lines:
We, the <name of party>, will practice responsible election campaigning and pledge:
- to include information in all our digital advertising which enables voters to identify the ad as ours;
- to publish our digital paid-for advertising content on a publicly available webpage;
- to share the substantiation of any objective factual claims used in ads on a publicly available webpage or on the ad itself;
- to revise or suspend claims that nominated independent fact-checking services find to be misleading.
1. To include information in all our digital advertising which enables voters to identify the ad as ours.
We believe there should be Imprints / watermarks on all digital ads as per the UK 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. To publish our digital, paid-for advertising content on a publicly available webpage.*
- Who is paying for the ads?
- Which organisations are sponsoring the ads?
- Which audience is being targeted by the ads?
The above criteria were recommended by the report of the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport OnDisinformation & “Fake News”. Their aim is 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.* Some of the online platforms have developed ad libraries, but they are, and always will be, of varying and inconsistent functionality. For example, on Twitter’s ad library ads are currently available only for 7 days. As our framework suggests, to ensure transparency we need a database that will show ads consistently across all platforms and media owners.
3. To share the substantiation of any objective factual claims used in ads on a publicly available webpage or on the ad itself.
Substantiation of objective factual claims could be included in the ad itself, or published independently and publicly together with any digital ads being used in the campaign.
4. To revise or suspend claims that nominated independent fact-checking services find to be misleading.
In the UK, 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 ad regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), rules on complaints that are submitted to it, and will take into account the advice of Clearcast 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 the nominated fact-checking services finds the objective factual claims to be misleading, the advertiser should take that feedback on board and consider revising or suspending adverts containing those claims. This is a “proxy” for the role we advocate in our framework that a regulator would / should play.
It is obviously important that the fact-checking service or services chosen are respected as independent by the main parties in your country. To give an example, in the UK we have nominated three fact-checking services: Full Fact, Channel 4 FactCheck and BBC Reality Check.
This pledge is a beginning. We will update the points in it as we receive feedback.
* We have prioritised transparency in digital ads to stop what are known as “dark” digital political ads (only viewable by the members of the public at whom they are targeted). However, we recommend you consider asking advertisers to take this a step further, and to publish also all non-digital, paid-for adverts in order to maximise transparency
We are delighted that The Green Party has announced it is supporting our campaign to reform political advertising.
A barrier to change historically has been the political parties agreeing to reforming the rules around political advertising. The Green Party’s support adds significant pressure to other parties to formally demand for the rules around political advertising to be updated. The Independent Group for Change also announced support for the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising in May.
We are a politically neutral organisation and not for profit. We are supported by many other organisations as part of our coaliton including the UK advertiser trade body ISBA.
The Green Party comments:
“At the Green Party, we support The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s campaign and all of the points you are seeking support for. We have been pushing for reform of regulations around elections for some years, particularly for transparency over online campaigning where electoral law is far behind where it should be in today’s digital age.”
Phil Smith, Director General, ISBA says:
“ISBA supports the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising’s 4 point plan and agrees there is urgency for there to be agreement in how political advertising should be more closely regulated ahead of any potential upcoming electoral processes.”
Alex Tait, Co-founder of the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising:
“We are absolutely delighted to have the support of the Green Party for our 4 point plan for political ad reform. There is consensus from everyone we speak to on the need to urgently modernise political advertising regulation. The barrier has historically been the political parties agreeing to it which is now finally changing. With the support we’ve been given also by The Independent Group for Change in May we’d like all the other political parties to show leadership on the issue and formally support what we are advocating too.”
We are calling on the UK Parliament to implement a four-point plan to improve the transparency and accuracy of discourse around our elections by reforming political advertising in the following ways:
- Legislate so that all paid-for political adverts can be viewed by the public
- Give an existing body the power to regulate political advertising content or create a new one to do so
- Require all objective factual claims used in political adverts to be substantiated
- Compulsory imprints or watermarks to show the origin of online adverts
Further details on our campaign can be found at https://reformpoliticaladvertising.org/background/
A key milestone in our campaign
The Government’s long-awaited response to the DCMS’s Disinformation and Fake News Inquiry was issued yesterday. This is an important milestone for our campaign, launched in May 2018, because the committee, chaired by Damian Collins MP, has conducted a thorough, wide-ranging and high-profile investigation of the topic of disinformation.
The headline is that the response is certainly more progress for the 4-point plan we’ve been championing. However, it ducks decisive action in several key areas.
Significant success for imprints and political ad transparency
To take each point of our 4-point plan in turn:
1. Compulsory imprints or watermarks to show the origin of online adverts
This certainly seems to be very positive and a definitive ‘tick’ for our plan, which is great news. The Government’s response states, ‘Candidates, political parties and non-party campaigners are currently required to have an imprint on any printed election material, to demonstrate that they have produced it. Extending this to include digital communications is essential for promoting fact-based political debate and tackling disinformation online.’ The timeframe the response gives is to bring ‘the technical proposal for this regime later on this year.’ This is certainly welcome and, as the Electoral Commission first raised the issue in 2003, long overdue!
2. Legislate so that all paid-for political adverts can be viewed by the public
The DCMS committee put forward a recommendation almost word for word what we’ve advocated in our plan, stating that ‘political advertising items should be publicly accessible in a searchable repository – who is paying for the ads, which organisations are sponsoring the ad, who is being targeted by the ads – so that members of the public can understand the behaviour of individual advertisers. It should be run independently of the advertising industry and of political parties.’
This too appears to have produced a welcome positive response. There is recognition that the solutions which platforms have developed, although good in themselves, ‘are far from perfect, and … more needs to be done to increase transparency.’ The Government proposes that the Code of Practice regarding disinformation cited in the Online Harms white paper should include the expectation that companies will ‘improve the overall transparency of political advertising on their platforms.’
However, as we’ve previously argued, the digital advertising market is complex, and audiences reached by Facebook can also be reached via various other platforms and media owners. The recommendation made was precise but the response has been much less so. We will continue to engage, with the aim of ensuring that these standards are common to all media owners and tech platforms, and that, in order to maintain its integrity, the repository is also truly independent.
Political parties need to walk the walk
3. Require all objective factual claims used in political adverts to be substantiated.
4. Give an existing body the power to regulate political advertising content or create a new one to do so
In relation to the last 2 points of our plan, the DCMS committee recommended ‘a comprehensive review of the current rules and regulations surrounding political work during elections and referenda.’ This point was also backed up recently by the Information Commissioner’s Office’s Elizabeth Denham, who made clear her disappointment with the Online Harms white paper in her evidence to the recent DCMS subcommittee, noting that it was ‘a gap’ not to have ‘a comprehensive examination … of the oversight needed’ for political advertising. You can watch this part of her testimony here.
Trust and transparency are the central themes of the Online Harms white paper. There is understandable focus on the tech platforms and foreign actors in the inquiry overall and in the Government’s responses. However, the breakdown of trust in politicians and politics currently is not going to be remedied without political parties and politicians also changing their behaviour.
The Advertising Standards Authority – the regulator for all advertising excluding political advertising – says that by far the majority of complaints it receives are over misleading claims. In his evidence, the CEO of the ASA also told the DCMS committee that ‘everyone wishes that political advertising [content] was regulated,’ including him.
Are the public going to be satisfied that disinformation in politics has been addressed, despite the ignoring of advertising content – where political parties can say almost anything they want in political ads? For a recent example, this thread, examining the untransparent campaign waged by ‘Britain’s Future’, provides a case study of the problem that would help to solve. We’ve also some well-known examples at the bottom of this page.
The Government response to this point seems a bit of a fudge. They state ‘the Government will continue to work with the Electoral Commission and political parties to identify and implement any reforms and clarifications to the law, regulations and practices around campaigning. We are committed to ensuring that the law and regulations around campaigning are up-to-date with technological advances in campaign techniques.’
Within the scope of that response we shall, of course, continue working to influence the regulation of political advertising content. We assume the newly established subcommittee on Disinformation and Fake News could be one way to do that.
Our campaign pledge offers an interim solution while we wait for legislation
In the meantime, the good news is that last week we launched our campaign pledge for responsible political advertising. Legislation can take a while to be influenced, drafted and implemented. The pledge offers a way for political parties to work to principles in line with our 4-point plan. We see it as a starting point and welcome feedback. We are delighted, however, that Change UK – The Independent Group are the first party to sign up and are implementing it immediately as part of their European Election campaign.
The pledge includes a commitment to suspend or amend objective factual claims that are deemed to be misleading by nominated fact-checking services Full Fact, Channel 4’s Factcheck or the BBC’s Reality Check as a proxy for a content regulator.
We are in conversation with several other parties. Our aspiration is to get as many as possible to sign up to it while we are waiting for legislation to be implemented. If you are a political advertiser and want to discuss the pledge, please email me. We’d love to take you through it.
Some other areas of interest
We chose the 4 areas in our plan to be hard to argue against, so we could easily build consensus, but which would have a major impact on restoring the integrity of our political processes.
There are many other important areas covered by the Government’s response.
For example, it is doing a lot of good work with ‘the Electoral Commission on statutory Codes of Practice for registered parties and candidates on electoral expenses … [to provide] clarity on digital campaigning election expenses. The Codes should come into force for the next major elections scheduled to take place in 2021 and 2022.’
Data use and targeting are, of course, high in the public’s awareness following revelations over the last few years. The Government response also states that the ‘Chair of the [newly opened] Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) [is] to investigate the advances in targeting and profiling practices, and consider what steps can be taken to ensure they are understood and trusted by the public, while best supporting business.’
However, as a cross-party body, the DCMS committee had asked for ‘an independent investigation into past elections – including the UK election of 2017, the UK Referendum of 2016, and the Scottish Referendum of 2014 – to explore what actually happened with regard to foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation, and the sharing of data, so that appropriate changes to the law can be made and lessons can be learnt for future elections and referenda.’
We predict that the Government’s response on this is likely to be read as political by the media, given what the DCMS committee and the Mueller Report in the US have uncovered on disinformation. The proposal is rejected, with a claim that it cannot be done on legal grounds. However, the Government’s response goes on to state confidently that ‘there is no evidence of successful foreign interference in UK democratic processes, this includes the 2016 referendum and the 2017 general election.’
We are acutely aware that there could be a snap general election or decision to have a second referendum in the rest of the year.
The Government’s response to the DCMS Disinformation & “Fake News” inquiry has positively announced some legislation for political ad reform. However, as the committee discussed it will not come into force until 2020 or 2021. We would therefore like to put forward a proposal on how we can accelerate the reform of political advertising and restore the trust of the electorate in any upcoming political process by requesting that political advertisers should adopt a campaign pledge for responsible election campaigning.
We are putting the pledge forward as a starting point, and encourage feedback and further input. It is based on our 4-point plan. 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 are a politically neutral initiative and would like all the main parties to sign up to the pledge. We are delighted that The Independent Group for Change and The Green Party are supporting our campaign. We are discussing support of the pledge with several other parties
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.
- 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”.
- 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.*
- 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.
- 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.
This pledge is intended as a starting point. We will update the points in it when we receive relevant feedback, and if emergency electoral law legislation is passed in the next few months.
* We have prioritised transparency in digital ads to avoid what are known as “dark” digital political ads only viewable by the members of the public at whom they are targeted. However, we would welcome advertisers taking this a step further and publishing all non digital paid for adverts also to maximise transparency.