The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has called for the creation of a publically available online register documenting political ad spending in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
After the Leave campaign was embroiled in illegal ad practices, both on the funding and the use of consumer data, and amid accusations foreign entities were purchasing unlabelled political ads to sway voters on social media platforms like Facebook, the body has issued an "urgent call" for a platform-neutral, industry-owned register of all political ads online.
It claimed that online platforms should fund the register with oversight by the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (Jicwebs). Google, Facebook, Twitter and more would also be responsible for populating the list so authorities could keep track of election promises (like unchecked claims on Brexit buses and unlabelled digital ads created to sow division on controversial subjects).
Upon its creation, Full Fact, the UK’s Independent Factchecking Charity, would be able to verify claims made in the ads in addition to seeing targeting and spend. Platforms should be charged a flat fee on any political ads they receive claimed the IPA, "irrespective of the scale of use".
The IPA said online platforms continue to run microtargeted Brexit-related political ads online. "These are unregulated and risk polarising political discourse," it added.
It provided an update on how each platform is looking to improve their record in this area.
Google began providing searchable transparency reports for the US midterm elections in November 2018. It added that it would be able to do so in the case of a second EU referendum. It outlined there are difficulties in tracking political spend all year round.
The IPA outlined that while US political ads on Twitter requires "additional eligibility requirements and file for certification," this is not the case in the UK. It also has no register or archive of political ads in the UK, making it difficult to verify claims made to users.
Facebook, under the guidance of former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg does now provide political ad archiving in the UK. The IPA said: "We applaud this progress from Facebook, but believe that no one platform should work in isolation regarding advertising that has the capacity to undermine the nation’s democratic process."
Clegg recently detailed how the social network will clamp down on political misinformation and inappropriate content.
Paul Bainsfair, director general of the IPA, said that the vast majority of advertising in the UK complies with the law and the self-regulatory codes but added that it is a "great shame" that because unregulated online political advertising is "tarnishing" the industry.
“Back last year... we called for a publicly accessible and searchable register of all political ad messages, alongside a moratorium on microtargeted political advertising online. We still call for this, however, given that only small steps are currently being made by the online tech platforms and that they continue to wield such power on voter decision-making, we find it incumbent upon us to call for more urgent action in the form of a register of online political ads. Funded by the tech platforms themselves.
“While we commend some of the steps taken by the online platforms - they are constructive and going in the right direction - they are still the financial beneficiaries of this type of advertising.
Bainsfair concluded: "Ultimately, no individual platform has the remit, authority and longevity to ensure fairness, transparency and consistency across the board. For this, we need a single body with the resources, cross-industry relationships and regulatory oversight. Which is why we – alongside the acknowledgement by the House of Lords that industry bodies should commit to signing up fully with Jicwebs, suggest that this comes under their jurisdiction.”
The IPA also supports the Electoral Commission’s request for imprints for online political ads. It also backs an immediate ban on online political advertising until relevant parties and campaigns can agree the appropriate rules.