Peterborough and Cambridgeshire mayor broke Facebook rules over political advertising

Facebook adverts placed on the page of Peterborough and Cambridgeshire’s metro mayor broke the social media giant’s rules.

Tuesday, 1st October 2019, 7:00 am
Mayor James Palmer

Approximately £1,300 was spent on Mayor James Palmer’s Facebook page over a 12 month period from last October. However, two of the 23 ads breached the company’s guidelines on political advertising as they failed to show who had paid for them, according to research from JPIMedia, publisher of the Peterborough Telegraph.

There is no suggestion the adverts aimed to deliberately deceive people.

Mayor Palmer said: “All Facebook advertising has been paid for from Conservative campaign funds. Every attempt has been made to comply with Facebook’s terms and conditions at all times and no communication has ever been received from Facebook highlighting any breach.

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Facebook ads data uncovered by the JPIMedia team

“If an advert has run without a disclaimer, this was purely inadvertent and the advert would have been paid for from Conservative campaign funds.”

Under a rule brought in last October following the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal, Facebook adverts relating to political or social issues must now show who has paid for them. The social media giant has also begun publishing details of who places - and pays for - those adverts.

JPIMedia identified around 300 adverts on the pages of politicians and councils nationally which were run without disclaimers - including 40 on behalf of sitting MPs.

There were 38 adverts totalling £3,769 placed on the Facebook page of MP for Peterborough Lisa Forbes in the run-up to her by-election victory in June, but none breached Facebook’s guidelines. No money was spent in the past year on Facebook advertising for North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara.

The Open Rights Group, which campaigns for internet users’ digital rights, said social media has become a “key battleground for political campaigns”.

Its data and democracy officer, Pascal Crowe, said the “rules that shape our elections are ripe for reform”.

“For example, it is currently too easy to field a political advert on Facebook without revealing who is paying for that ad,” he said.

“It is now perhaps easier than ever to game the system and avoid being held to account.”

A spokesperson for Facebook said: “Our industry-leading tools are making it easier to see all political ads on our platforms and archives them for seven years in Facebook’s Ad Library.

“People are able to report concerns to us or regulators as appropriate.”

A government spokesperson said: “There should be greater transparency in political advertising which is why we have already pledged to introduce the requirement for digital election material to be clearly branded. We will bring forward technical proposals by the end of the year.”