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Facebook urged to ban political adverts ahead of General Election

In the past three days a number of adverts have been taken down from the site for being incorrectly labelled, including Government-backed adverts.

Facebook’s rules require all political advertising to be labelled (Niall Carson/PA)
Facebook’s rules require all political advertising to be labelled (Niall Carson/PA)

By Megan Baynes, PA

Facebook has faced calls to ban all political advertising ahead of the forthcoming General Election, after a number of misleading ads were taken down from the platform.

The social network’s rules require all political advertising to be labelled, so users can get information about who paid for them.

However, in the past three days several adverts have been taken down for being incorrectly labelled, including some paid for by the Government.

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An advert by the Fair Tax Campaign was taken down by Facebook for being incorrectly labelled.

Ian Lucas, an outgoing member of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) sub-committee on disinformation, said: “I think it’s very difficult to see how Facebook can adequately prevent misinformation.

He told the PA news agency: “I think they are going to see a considerable number of complaints about misleading advertising throughout this election, and it does concern me – it’s an issue I have seen growing.

“One of the big debates we are having is around targeted ads. The danger of these adverts is being dismissed.

“Removing political adverts is the right decision for democracy.”

Facebook has faced increasing pressure to remove political ads after Twitter announced it would do so from November 22.

One advert taken down in recent days was published by a page called the Fair Tax Campaign, a lobbying group run by former Boris Johnson aide Alex Crowley.

The sponsored advert asked: “Could you afford an extra £214 each month? That’s what Labour’s tax plans would mean for EVERYONE.”

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The advert was taken down for contravening Facebook’s policies.

However, Labour has yet to publish its tax plans or manifesto ahead of the election.

Between £400 and £499 was spent on the advert, which largely targeted men over the age of 65 in England. It was seen up to 40,000 times.

When contacted by the BBC, Mr Crowley said the ad was based on a New Economics Foundation report from August, adding that his campaign had no links with the Conservative Party.

Last Friday the Government was accused of misusing taxpayers’ money to target voters in key swing constituencies with Facebook ads.

At least 17 adverts, promising up to £25 million investment in towns across the UK, were deactivated after they were not correctly labelled. However, a Government spokesman said the adverts had been due to expire anyway.

They went live on the day the General Election was announced.

Unlike traditional advertising, there is no way of regulating what is said on targeted Facebook ads.

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Last Friday, a series of adverts from the ‘My Town’ campaign were taken down for not being labelled as political adverts.

These ads only appear in specific newsfeeds for profiles they are targeting.

If they are not correctly labelled political adverts – as was the case with both the Fair Tax Campaign and My Town adverts – it is difficult to know who is seeing them.

After the Fair Tax Campaign ad was removed, Conservative Damian Collins, who chaired the DCMS sub-committee, tweeted: “First strike in the campaign against sketchy political ads on Facebook.

“People shouldn’t be able to place political adverts online if we can’t see who is paying for them. The same rules that apply offline should apply on the internet.”

PA

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