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Agencies Policy & Regulation

Who Targets Me director Sam Jeffers talks political messaging, money and media


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

April 18, 2024 | 5 min read

The forthcoming UK General Election is expected to be the ‘richest’ of all time, with more money being spent to push political messages than ever before. In such a complex media era, that could be a cause for concern, as Sam Jeffers, CEO of Who Targets Me, explains in the latest episode of Politics for Dummies.

Sam Jeffers

Sam Jeffers, CEO of Who Targets Me

Who Targets Me helps voters understand how political parties and social media platforms use technology and communications to win their trust and their precious votes. The platform’s core aim is to make political advertising and messaging as transparent as possible so that those abusing any available technology can be brought to account.

Speaking with Politics for Drummies host Alastair Duncan, Jeffers said: “The UK has more money for this election than ever before. It shouldn’t be ignored that election spending limits have basically doubled and because they [political parties] can’t spend that money on TV, it is going to go to digital advertising. Maybe parties can spend a bit more with their agencies on content creation and make some nice videos, maybe a more expensive party political broadcast, but, ultimately, that’s a load of money that is going to get thrown at Facebook and Google. In some ways, that makes it all feel quite American this time around.”

Political parties will be using AI technology to find new, faster, cheaper ways to push messages and policies in the run-up to the election. So, what impact does Jeffers feel AI could have on the election and is there potential for it to be abused?

“I don’t think 2024 is going to pose a huge AI-generated content threat to elections,” he says. “I know, a lot of media coverage says it will, but if you think about the practical realities of running political campaigns, there are lots of things that could get in the way of you wanting to use very much AI, or that would make it harder for you to use AI. For example, the platforms themselves don’t really want you using fake stuff and will discipline you for it. Say, if I made up something about my opponent and ran a bunch of deepfake videos about them or something, that should come at some sort of cost, right? You’re gonna find yourself hauled over the coals in the newspapers for doing that and it doesn’t look very good for your party if you’re doing inauthentic things using AI.”

Jeffers also outlines the interesting work that his organization is currently doing to research and analyze the content political parties and organizations are pushing out so they can get a better handle on who is saying what to whom and with what ultimate effect: “We’re planning to do some analysis where we are going to throw all of the content the organizations we monitor produce into one of these large language models and analyze what’s going on. What are the themes the Tories advertise around versus Labour versus the Lib Dems? How much do they use those themes within their messaging? And so on? Because we’ve built all of these systems, it’s very easy for us to apply them to any other country. So, these things now work across 50-plus countries. We maintain our datasets of advertisers in lots of lots of places and we’re up to about 70,000 advertisers that we track around the world at this point.”

Jeffers also reflects on the complexity that now exists across the media landscape, which makes it incredibly difficult to identify what communications are effective and, ultimately, what drives voters to support the people and parties that they do.

He says: “It’s really hard nowadays to be able to say, ‘Oh, that was the thing that made the difference.’ People have incredibly complicated media diets these days; there’s no real way to understand what’s happening across channels, and the complexity is unbelievable. When I grew up, I would, I would run to the door in the morning to grab a newspaper. First, I’d read the newspaper, we would have one radio program on every morning. There was there was such a strict media diet back then. There’s no way of recreating people’s media diets these days. People flip between channels; they’re across six different social media channels, they’re getting emails, there are streaming services, the radio and so on. It’s just impossible to reconstruct this stuff. So I think I think it can be overstated.”

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