In the wake of media reports accusing the UK's main political parties of using “fake twitter accounts” and “sinister Facebook ads”, Michael Moszynski, chief executive and founder of London Advertising, has written to the heads of the IPA, IAB and Electoral Commission requesting the urgent establishment of a working party to develop a clear set of standards for how political parties use social media in the future.
A study by Oxford University found that 179 accounts believed to be bots pumped out 21,661 tweets about Labour during just one week in the election. Meanwhile, 182 fake Tory accounts put out 13,000 tweets over the same time period. The bots work by re-tweeting and spreading existing posts so they are more likely to come up in searches.
Monica Kaminska, co-author of the Oxford University study, said: “It is worrying because it has the potential to distort the conversation, it is megaphoning marginal viewpoints, and because young people are turning towards social media as their primary news source.”
Moszynski, who runs political campaigns across the globe and was responsible for the Conservative 2005 campaign, said: "This is an issue of growing concern globally – the UK has one of the world’s most advanced communications industries can and should take the lead of proactively addressing this issue in advance on any future elections.
“We have had two major votes (Brexit and the Election) where the results have been important to the country but after democracy has spoken there are numerous concerns that the public has been misled or influenced inappropriately. The use of social media is an increasingly important communication tool in election campaigns but the rules governing it have not kept up. It is important that the public knows when a message is paid for, who is paying for it and that it is visible for the media and other parties to scrutinise. Likewise when a post is organic (i.e. not paid for) the public needs to be confident it is coming from a genuine person, not a robot.
"Given the possibility of another imminent election this work needs to commence to govern good practice by our political parties and also before other actors such as the Russians or ISIS opens this up as a new front to subvert our way of life and democracy.”
Moszynski recognises that implementing regulations in the political arena will present "a number of challenges" and has offered his suggestions as a prompt for a full review by the relevant governing bodies.