Should I trust political campaigns on social media?

In recent years social media has transformed political campaigning. Many people will remember Barack Obama using Facebook like never before during his 2008 run for President. The social networking site was used to engage millions of people, particularly young people, urging them to vote and donate to boost the campaign.

However, the impact of using social media as a tactic to win elections also brought up ethical questions. For example, should the government be able to use sites like Facebook to gauge how they are doing? Can your social media credentials be used by a candidate to remind you to vote? And can parties pay for ads that contain false information to help them bolster their share of the vote?

As social media use has spread, the impact it can have in elections has also ballooned. Allegations of misinformation, the misuse of personal data and foreign countries putting money into domestic campaigns have created an atmosphere of mistrust for many people. As a result, many countries and social media sites have started to put in place regulations to try and monitor political campaigns online.

In 2018 Facebook announced it was launching “paid for by” labels on political ads on Facebook and Instagram. The party will have to prove their identity and where they are based using an ID – this is following allegations that countries were attempting to hijack political campaigns by purchasing lots of ads. The new rules also include an online archive showing all the previous ads by the same party, how much was spent on them and who they reached.

In addition, Twitter announced this year that it had extended its political ads policy to include all European Union members. This ruling ensures that only certified advertisers will be allowed to run political campaigning ads on the site.

This increase in transparency is a step towards building public trust in political advertising. However, it is local electoral commissions who will have to monitor who is breaking the law in terms of electoral spending on social media. They will also need to monitor where politicians are getting their funding from.

In addition to social media sites, many countries have introduced new laws to ensure online political adverts conform to other electoral spending rules. In France, for example, anyone wanting to use social media adverts in an election must declare how much was spent on them. Similarly, in Bangkok, campaign spending and the wording of online adverts are now under strict regulations to avoid political advantage of one party.

In the run up to the 2019 European Elections several million Euros will be allocated to combat ‘fake news’ and preventing the manipulation of the elections. However, if you’re concerned about the legitimacy of adverts and news, we would advise that you double check and research the authenticity of the sources to make sure you’re making a well-informed political decision.