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Report finds 'lack of consistency' in online political adverts during 2019 European elections

That’s according to ElectCheck, a new research report commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock/BigTunaOnline

A REPORT LOOKING at the online political advertising during the 2019 European Election has found inconsistencies in how political and issue-based advertising was defined.

That’s according to ElectCheck 2019, a new research report commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and carried out by the Institute for Future Media and Journalism (FuJo) at DCU. 

The research examined the political advertising activity on Facebook, Twitter and Google during the 2019 European Election campaign, in the context of the platforms’ commitments in the self-regulatory Code of Practice on Disinformation, which aims to address the spread of online disinformation and fake news.

As part of the research, more than 1,500 political advertisements included in ad libraries and datasets provided by Facebook, Twitter and Google were monitored for the following information: 

  • Whether the advert was paid for
  • Who paid for it
  • If it carried a disclaimer stating that it was a political or issue-based avert
  • Information on micro-targeting
  • The amount spent for the advert

The report found that while some information relative to the research questions could be found from the supplied datasets, it was not possible to arrive at a clear, fully comprehensive picture of the native and scale of political advertising on Facebook, Twitter and Google. 

This was due to inconsistencies in the datasets. 

It also found that issue-based adverts – those concerned with campaigning issues, such as immigration and the environment, rather than election candidates or parties – were only labelled by Facebook. 

Twitter and Google did not identify issue-based adverts in their datasets. 

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Commenting on the findings, FuJo director Jane Suiter said: “Online advertising offers an effective means of reaching target audiences, so it is unsurprising that it is now integral to any modern, political campaign.

“However, the lack of transparency presents significant risks and challenges and could potentially undermine the integrity of the electoral process.”

Suiter said the findings indicate that the digital platforms “have much room for improvements if they are to comply with their commitments under the Code of Practice on Disinformation”. 

BAI chief executive Michael O’Keeffe said the report indicates that the three platforms “actively engaged with their commitments to support electoral transparency”. 

However, it also shows a lack of consistency from platform to platform in how they presented the data and in how political and issue-based advertising was defined.

“To facilitate effective monitoring of political advertising and ensure full transparency, a clear and consistent regulatory approach is required, and policy-makers and regulators need to be equipped within their remits to respond adequately to the existing and emergency challenges in this regard.” 

FuJo has now made a number of recommendations to the Department of the Taoiseach’s public consultation on regulation of online political advertising in Ireland. 

These include the establishment of the Electoral Commission, the establishment of a searchable repository of online political advertising (which include information about adverts and their distribution), and enforcing a requirement to include imprints on all online political advertising to indicate who is responsible for creating the material. 

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