Dark ads in the Midlands: how local voters are being targeted by political parties on Facebook

on June 7, 2017

As part of an investigation into ‘dark advertising’ in this election with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism we’ve been digging into never-before-seen data on highly targeted Facebook ads which are not regulated by rules limiting local election spending, or open to wider public scrutiny.

The data has been collected by the political advertising tracker Who Targets Me? This is not a comprehensive or representative sample, as it relies on people installing the anonymous tracking tool on their desktop browser. However, it does provide some insights into which ads are being shown in which areas.

The analysis uncovers clear differences between the way that political parties have been using Facebook to deliver specific messages to voters across the Midlands. Here are just some of the themes:

The Greens need money and airtime

Most of the Green Party’s advertising in the Midlands focused on calls for donations – and to be given the same opportunities as UKIP to speak on air.

The Conservatives: Project Fear

A leader who supports our armed forces or one who wants to abolish them

Four out of every five Facebook ads targeted at Who Targets Me?’s Midlands users by the Conservatives used the word ‘risk’ — from urging Facebook users not to “risk a bad Brexit deal” to saying Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was “too big a risk”.

Most of the advertising was negative and attacked the Labour leader: almost one in every ten ads mentioned Corbyn by name, and one video claimed that he “wants to abolish the armed forces”.

In fact, more ads mentioned Corbyn than mentioned Theresa May (8 in every 10 ads), and only one in twenty mentioned the Conservatives. The main focus when Conservative position was presented was Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats have a scattergun approach

save the royal marines

Ads from the Liberal Democrats picked up by Who Targets Me? managed to cover climate change, internet regulation, renting fees, the dementia tax, free school meals, guaranteeing EU citizens residency, a final say on the Brexit deal – and cuts to the Royal Marines.

They included attacks on both the Labour and Conservative leaders, but there was a notably different advertising strategy for ads from Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, which focused particularly on the NHS.

Like the Green Party, they were more likely to target younger audiences on Facebook — but again, there was a notable difference in Tim Farron’s ads, which were targeted at an older audience.

Labour are trying to get the vote out

register to vote

Labour were the only party who used their advertising to urge people to register to vote: more than one in ten of Labour advertising in the Midlands picked up by Who Targets Me? focused on voter registration. They also used ads to urge users to sign up, campaign, volunteer, or join a campaigning event.

Around half of ads included attacks on the Conservatives — but the Liberal Democrats were also attacked in one in ten adverts.

When it came to policy, the NHS was a strong theme – mentioned in 10% of their ads – while students and pensioners were key groups too, as the party sought to promote its policies on student loans and pensions.

Notably, recent ads have tackled tax, too, focusing on the pledge not to rise Income Tax for 95% of taxpayers, and not to increase VAT or National Insurance.

Read our other post: Here are the ‘dark ads’ making Midlands voters most angry on Facebook in this election.

Have you seen a political ad on Facebook? Post it on Twitter or Instagram and mention @bhameastside

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Here are the ‘dark ads’ making Midlands voters most angry on Facebook in this election – Birmingham Eastside

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