Does election influencing mean it’s time to unfriend Facebook?
We’re living in a world post-Cambridge Analytica, where the Brexit vote and the world, in general, have been manipulated by the weaponization of Facebook. Considering how much outrage has already been caused, one would’ve hoped that Facebook has stopped itself being used as a weapon of political destruction. But has it? Let’s take a look at Facebook’s election influence through the eyes of yesterday’s vote.
First things first, is Facebook really doing enough to stop influencing elections?
Recently, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg (yes…the Nick Clegg, ex-leader of the Lib Dems) actually announced that posts from political organisations and political adverts are actually exempt from fact-checking! This means that political parties are able to promote inaccurate claims without scrutiny. Claims such as “the EU costs the UK £350M a week”.
Another blow for Facebook – their transparency fell victim to a mysterious “bug”
If what we just mentioned wasn’t bad enough, just days before the UK went to the polls, a bug seemed to get the better of Facebook’s transparency tools, meaning over £7.4 million pound’s worth of ads became inaccessible to scrutiny.
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook was forced to establish an Ad Library to keep track of all political and business advertising as no record of Cambridge Analytica’s advertising had ever been stored. The Facebook Ad Library has been a great tool in seeing which party has been spending the most, in what areas, and why.
The strange thing is, though, that while only 20% of Conservative ads were affected, over 43% of Labour’s were. What’s worse, over 60% of the Lib Dems were unavailable. Plus, those were the days that BoJo happened to go out with all of his Brexit-related ads, all of which escaped scrutiny.
So…how did Facebook sway the electorate?
Now that we’ve seen evidence that Facebook seems to have a soft spot for all things Blue, let’s take a look at how the two main parties campaigns played out.
The conservatives planned their ads around fact-checkable messages, attack lines, and key election pledges. They released a larger number of adverts, but put less money behind them. Labour, on the other hand, focussed less on fact-checkable messages and went for call to actions and general sentiments instead. They had fewer ads than the Conservatives, but put more money behind what they went out with.
Liar, liar, pants on fire…Conservative version
Unfortunately, there’s no real hero in this social media story of ours. Both main political parties have been caught out for lying and being inaccurate with their claims. Did Facebook make an example of them? Of course not!
Taking a look at the Tories first, their campaign actually started the day Boris Johnson got sworn in as leader – not when the general election was announced, meaning they got a bit of a head start. By the end of the day on 23rd July, 150 ads had gone out from Conservative accounts. The pre-election period saw campaigns featuring one of Boris’ favourite pledges, to recruit over 20,000 new police officers. Just for context – 20,000 new police offices don’t bring police numbers back to what it was before the Tories took power in 2010, it’d still be 8% lower.
Next, before the elections even started, ads were flying around about the Tories building 40 new hospitals. They forgot to mention, though, that this claim wasn’t accurate. What the Conservatives were actually planning was to give money to 6 hospitals this election term, and then offer funding to 32 others between 2025 and 2030!
Moving on to their election campaign, things started off pretty smoothly with the Tories introducing their candidates. They also started stating that Labour and the SNP were going to team up in exchange for a second Scottish referendum vote. They also attacked Labour’s Brexit policy, using ex-labour PMs to endorse them.
By week three, the Tories were ramping up their attack, including costings in Labour’s policy plans. The problem was, Labour hadn’t given any numbers yet, so this claim that Labour would spend 1.2 trillion over the next 5 years was a lie.
We could go on about this all day, but as most of you are probably already sick of the elections, let’s leave it here: almost all of the Conservative’s ads have been proven to be misleading. We’re sure there’s plenty of innocent people who have fallen victim to the Tories inaccurate ads. Well done Facebook – you should be “proud” of yourselves.
Round two – Labour
Next, so we’re not accused of being just another pesky Paddy trying to have a say on the great Union, here’s a look at Labour. They’ve fared better than the tories, but still have a bit of explaining to do.
Unlike the Conservatives, Labour started with their campaign in October, going out with simple, claim-free ads. While there were a number of ads attacking the Conservatives, the most questionable claim was that a US trade deal would send medicine prices skyrocketing. The price they put on this, however, was unrealistic, and therefore misleading.
A number of other ads like “Labour’s the only party to stop Boris Johnson’s Brexit” would have pissed off the Lib Dems, but they weren’t posting any inaccurate facts you could discredit them for.
Lots of money was also spent promoting a Doctor slating conservative pledges. While the Conservatives were found to have been lying about their NHS claims, Labour didn’t assess these claims accurately at all.
Labour also went out claiming 95% of people wouldn’t be affected by their tax changes. The problem is that Labour happened to ignore indirect tax changes and removing the marriage tax allowance.
Has the mighty Facebook become a manipulative propaganda machine?
Facebook isn’t a company or platform we should really be trusting. From Cambridge Analytica to election influencing around the world, it’s a wonder so many people are using Facebook as a trusted communications tool. What’s worse is that people are being manipulated without even realising it. Just look at the number of middle-aged mums out there sharing political messages and hate speech, which spread like wildfire.