Online political campaigning ‘to be more transparent’
The government promises voters “the same transparency” in electoral and referendum campaigns online they get in flyers and posters.
He wants the material from parties and campaign groups to post a “fingerprint” showing who is behind it.
Electoral reform activists have said this “must be just the beginning” of “cleaning up” British democracy.
The government plans will be published in full on Wednesday and then submitted for public consultation.
Flyers and election papers must include who produced and paid for the material, although there is no rule as to how important this brand should be – and all three major UK parties were criticized in last year’s general election for mimicking local newspapers or official letters.
But there has been a huge shift from flyers and newspapers to online advertising, rising from 3% of total spending in 2011 to 42.8% in 2017, according to the most recent data from the Electoral Commission.
Political online advertising is largely unregulated in the UK and campaign material is not required by law to be true or accurate, or to tell who is paying for it.
Last year the Electoral Reform Society, which campaigns for a change in the voting system, described it as the “Wild West” and subject to rules locked in the “analog age”.
The Conservative Party itself was accused of misleading voters when it renamed its press office Twitter account as Fact Check UK during a televised debate in the 2019 general election.
Then party chairman James Cleverly said the Twitter feed was clearly labeled as “CCHQ press”.
There has also been a growing concern about interference in the UK’s political messages from abroad, initially during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
“Transparency of value”
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said last month that he was “almost certain” that the Russians had tried to influence the 2019 general election.
And a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee states that the government made no effort to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Revealing the government’s proposals promised in last year’s Queen’s speech, Constitutional Affairs Minister Chloe Smith said: “Voters appreciate transparency.
“So we need to ensure that there are clear rules to help them see who is behind the online campaign content.”
He said this would help create “one of the most comprehensive sets of regulations operating in the world today.”
According to the government’s plans, a “fingerprint” should be displayed as part of online content, such as a video or graphic.
But the government says that “where this is not possible” it should be placed in an “alternative location accessible and related to the material”.
Ministers want registered political parties, registered third parties, political candidates, elected office holders and registered referendum activists to put an imprint on their digital campaign material whether it is paid advertising or “organic” content – where none professional advertiser is paid to promote and distribute it.
For unregistered activists, this would only apply to paid content.
More details on what this could mean in practice are expected on Wednesday when the full consultation paper is published.
But the rules will cover all content related to the campaign, regardless of the country in which it was produced, and will always apply, not just during elections and referendums.
The government says this would allow the Electoral Commission to “better monitor who is promoting election material and enforce spending rules,” which prevent foreign donations.
Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Society for Electoral Reform, said, “For too long, our democracy has been open to anonymous” dark advertisements “, fraudulent donors and foreign interference online.
“This won’t fix everything, but it will help fill one of the many flaws in HMS Democracy.”
He added that “strong sanctions” are needed for those who break the rules and that ministers “must not be able to hand over the giants of Silicon Valley.”
Alex Tait, co-founder of the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising, said: “Consultation on footprints is certainly welcome, but this is the bare minimum the government could do to modernize electoral regulation.”