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General election 2017: Tories use Facebook ‘dark ads’ to target Hampstead & Kilburn key marginal seat

PUBLISHED: 18:01 07 June 2017 | UPDATED: 18:05 07 June 2017

Conservatives posted this Facebook dark advert about 'strong and stable' government at voters in the hotly contested seat of Hampstead and Kilburn

Conservatives posted this Facebook dark advert about 'strong and stable' government at voters in the hotly contested seat of Hampstead and Kilburn

Archant

The Conservatives have outstripped Labour in their use of Facebook dark adverts to try and influence votes in Hampstead and Kilburn, the Ham&High can reveal.

As voters head to the polls, we can show how political ads containing specific messages have played a part in local campaigning for the key marginal seat.

So called “dark ads” on Facebook are personalised commercials shown to users based on their age, sex and interests.

Data has shown 43 dark adverts have been targeted at voters in Hampstead and Kilburn in the last six weeks - 14 by the Liberal Democrats, 11 by the Tories and eight by Labour.

The Conservatives posted only four dark ads across the 19 other north and east London constituencies we analysed, while Labour and the Lib Dems showed similar levels of activity across all the seats.

This suggests a targeted online push by the Tories to win crucial votes in Hampstead and Kilburn.

Facebook dark ads are currently completely unregulated and some groups have blamed them for strongly influencing last year’s Brexit vote.

Dark ads: Labour attack the Liberal Democrats in this video targeted at voters in Hampstead and KilburnDark ads: Labour attack the Liberal Democrats in this video targeted at voters in Hampstead and Kilburn

Will Moy, director of independent fact checking website Full Fact, said: “It’s possible to target dark ads at millions of people in this country without the rest of us knowing about it.

“Inaccurate information could be spreading with no one to scrutinise it.”

Unlike billboards or TV ads, which everyone can see, targeted Facebook advertising is unique to each user and so is extremely difficult to track.

But a new British citizen-data group called Who Targets Me? is attempting to monitor dark ads using an extension on the Chrome browser.

The Ham&High was given access to the data by The Bureau Local, part of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The sample data showed Tory ads in Hampstead and Kilburn focused on core messages about Brexit and “strong and stable” government. Some attack Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn directly.

This colourful Facebook dark ad promotes the Lib Dem's policy on decriminalising cannabisThis colourful Facebook dark ad promotes the Lib Dem's policy on decriminalising cannabis

The Lib Dems used a variety of messages focusing on their policies about legalising cannabis, housing, the European single market and EU citizens’ “#righttostay” in the UK.

Labour ads encouraged people to get out and vote, and one attacked the Lib Dems directly saying: “They broke their promises before and they would do it again.”

The Greens used a “Do you know how Green you are really?” video, which shows people agreeing with policies only to find out later they are from the Green Party.

The data-set also revealed 41 dark ads have been targeted at voters in Holborn and St Pancras, 34 in Hornsey and Wood Green, 30 in Finchley and Golders Green, and 25 in Westminster North.

Labour used the highest number of dark ads in all these constituencies, followed by the Lib Dems.

Louis Knight-Webb, co-founder of Who Targets Me?, said it was important to understand how Facebook dark advertising may be influencing elections.

Dark ads: This Green video showed interviews with people questioned about the party's policiesDark ads: This Green video showed interviews with people questioned about the party's policies

“It’s my personal hope that further down the line this data will be useful in bringing about electoral reform,” he said.

None of the political parties commented.

THE NATIONAL PICTURE
How are political parties using dark ads nationally?

According to The Bureau Local, which has analysed data about 889 Facebook dark adverts nationally, the Conservatives are heavily targeting Jeremy Corbyn - with nine out of 10 of their adverts attacking him.

The Labour Party, by contrast, is hardly mentioning Theresa May in its social media campaign with only 9 per cent of the 136 different ads seen referring to the prime minister. The adverts Labour is promoting hardest are not related to policy, but are urging people to get out and vote. The next most common topics addressed in paid-for ads by the party are the NHS and tuition fees.

The Conservatives are focusing most on Brexit, the economy and security, while the Liberal Democrats are using Facebook ads to

talk about Brexit and dementia but also to seek donations.

The data taken from the Facebook feeds of more than 8,000 voters nationally has been gathered by the citizen data project Who Targets Me?.

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