Social media users in Wigan targeted with ads seeking to influence their opinion of local issues

Wigan’s social media users are being targeted with adverts seeking to influence their opinion of local issues.

Tuesday, 24th September 2019, 11:12 am
The highest spend in our region came from Bolton West MP Chris Green, whose constituency includes Atherton

New research by the JPIMedia data investigation found that some of the borough’s MPs, councillors and local political groups have spent thousands of pounds between them to ensure their messages were heard by Facebook users.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media giant last year began publishing details of who places - and pays for - adverts promoting political or social issues.

Spending on these ads, often targeted to specific groups, has totalled more than £6.4m across the UK since last October.

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And while much of the attention has focused on the big parties and pressure groups on either side of the Brexit divide, the data also reveals the thousands of adverts placed at a local level, often seeking to influence constituents on what can appear to be seemingly mundane neighbourhood issues.

The highest spend in our region came from Bolton West MP Chris Green, whose constituency includes Atherton. Mr Green’s social media accounts paid more than £2,000 for targeted ads, including advertising MP surgeries and meetings with local police officers. £994 of this was paid for by Mr Green while £1,076 came from the Bolton West Conservatives group.

Wigan Against Brexit spent £1,470 on six targeted adverts to reach more social media users, which were paid for by the Project Hope organisation.

Under new rules Facebook introduced in October 2018, anyone placing a political advert must declare who paid for it. But our investigation found ads on the pages of local politicians and councils which were run without these disclaimers, including one from Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue and Wigan Council.

There is no suggestion that any of the adverts had been deliberate attempts to deceive constituents. They were all found and removed by Facebook.

Other ads from Ms Fovargue’s page included clips of her speeches in Parliament as well as promoting Wigan’s Armed Forces Day celebrations.

She said: “Social media provides a platform for politicians to inform and advertise their work. As a society we now consume news and information via platforms like Facebook and this provides politicians with the opportunity to generate content alongside the traditional ways of campaigning such as leafleting.”

Wigan Council also had an ad taken down for not running the payment disclaimer, though it was not political in nature. Lucy Downham, strategic PR manager at Wigan Council said: “All of our communications and advertisements are targeted to help our campaigns reach relevant audiences.

“This is standard practice across the marketing industry worldwide and is an approach shared across the public and private sector.

“Social media is one of the most effective ways to engage with the public so targeting our audience by age, location or interests means that we can ensure our content is seen by those who are most likely to engage with it, which also ensures value for money.”

Several Labour Party pages across the borough also paid for ads, often to promote candidates for the local elections and highlighting their work in their communities.

A Government spokesperson said: “There should be greater transparency in political advertising, which is why we have already pledged to introduce the requirement for digital election material to be clearly branded. We will bring forward technical proposals by the end of the year.”

A spokesperson for Facebook said: “Our industry-leading tools are making it easier to see all political ads on our platforms, and archives them for seven years in Facebook’s Ad Library. People are able to report concerns to us or regulators as appropriate.”

A full list of advertising data can viewed at www.facebook.com/ads/library