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Boris ad blitz and Facebook’s role in democracy

2019-07-26
DumbBo

Boris Johnston mumbled into the UK parliament as the UK’s Prime Minister yesterday as his party began a Brexit ad blitz on Facebook. Several hundred ads with slight variations to target different demographics in across different areas of the UK hit the news feed of UK Facebook users.

In the ads, Boris asks voters to share details on their “priorities for the country” ahead of Brexit.  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. Those watching in the sidelines are certain this whiffs of Johnston preparing for a general election. He’s getting all the data needed first so the Conservatives can lead a campaign of precision, but the ad blitz comes as Facebook is being embroiled in its role in democracy.

If there is an election, it seems Facebook still cannot control the spread of shady campaigning. With Johnston appointing Dominic Cummings who directed the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum as his senior adviser, there is concern that we’re headed for some more political online wrongdoing. Vote Leave after all broke election spending rules.

There is also coming elections in Canada and the US, and Facebook mops up 80 percent of political campaign advertising money. Yes, you read that right. Facebook takes around 80 percent of election ad money. And there is little oversight on how political posts are funded and who they target.

Facebook is under intense pressure from regulators around the world. Even one of its co-founders is lobbying to have the beast broken up because he sees it as a threat to democracy. The company was fined $5 billion on Wednesday by the US Federal Trade Commission. Zuckerberg paid the fine from his small change jar. A further $100 million fine was paid to the US Securities Exchange Commission, for privacy violations. Zuck used the money he normally uses as toilet roll to cover that one.

Researchers, say they have submitted hundreds of bugs to Facebook to fix problems in its ad transparency tools. Computer scientists from Mozilla ended up being blocked as they had so many requests. The problem remains. There is little difference between Facebook as a muddy propaganda platform now than in 2016. If we want to stop Brexit and Trump like political earthquakes recurring the second time, we have to loosen Facebook’s role as a political platform.