The Conservative Party has mounted a significant ad campaign on Facebook in the wake of Boris Johnson’s appointment as prime minster, asking voters to share details on their “priorities for the country” ahead of Brexit.
According to Facebook’ ad library, more than 500 iterations of the campaign – which puts Boris front-and-centre – were launched on Wednesday (24 July), the same day he took the reins from Theresa May. More were also set to go live on Thursday (25 July).
The ads, targeted towards different demographics in various areas of the UK, direct people towards a survey on the Conservatives' website.
Text from Johnson reads: "I’m going to deliver Brexit by 31st October – so we can invest in the NHS, schools, housing and police. We’ve got a fresh opportunity to get things done. It’s time to get the UK back on the road to a brighter future. So what are your priorities for the country? Let me know by taking my survey."
As part of the questionnaire, users are required to give their postcode, full name and email, consenting to online ad targeting from the political party.
Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent at Sky News, suggested the campaign was part of a bigger move to gather data ahead of a potential general election (a move Johnson has already ruled out).
And so it begins. The Conservatives welcome the new PM by pumping Facebook full of Boris Johnson ads. They're running an astonishing 554 versions of these things. Almost as if they're gathering data for an election... pic.twitter.com/HNq9SAophN
— Rowland Manthorpe (@rowlsmanthorpe) July 24, 2019
The ad offensive from the Conservatives comes amid increasing scrutiny over Facebook’s role in democracy.
Though the tech giant has made efforts to be more transparent about showing people how political parties and groups are spending within its walls, the release of Netflix’s The Great Hack documentary – which explores the fallout of the Facebook-Cambrdige Analytica scandal – has thrust the issue of data misuse back into the spotlight.
According to Facebook data, the Conservatives spent £189,898 on ads since October 2018. The Labour Party isn’t far behind with a spend of £172,195 over the same time period, and it too launched a series of ads on Wednesday which sought to discredit Johnson’s political track record. The Liberal Democrats has spent £286,779 on ads since October, while Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has invested £190,670. The Greens spent £59,684.
The prime minister appointed his cabinet yesterday, handing the culture secretary job to Nicky Morgan, former chair of the Commons Treasury select committee. Andrea Leadsom was also appointed business secretary.
Outside the cabinet, the most eye-catching appointment from Johnson so far is that of Dominic Cummings, former campaign director for Vote Leave during the EU referendum, as his senior adviser.
Ad industry bosses have expressed a mixed reaction to Johnson’s leadership win.