Farage’s Brexit Party spends big on Facebook ads

Member of the European Parliament and Leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage attends a press conference in Central London Britain, 23 April 2019. [EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER]

The Brexit Party of arch-eurosceptic Nigel Farage outspent both the Labour and Conservative Parties on political advertising ahead of the European elections during the Easter break, according to data published by Facebook.

The Brexit Party, which is campaigning for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU at the earliest opportunity, spent £11,523 on Facebook ads between April 14 and April 20, a figure that dwarfs the £6,646 and £6,251 spent by the Labour and Conservative parties respectively, across the same period.

Meanwhile, Change UK, a new party established by pro-EU advocates only begun advertising on Facebook on Tuesday, and has so far spent considerably less.

[Facebook Ad Library]

Facebook’s data also shows that ads for the Brexit Party have been geared towards men over the age of 45.

EURACTIV heard from the Brexit Party’s Chief Digital Strategist, Steven Edginton, following the disclosure of the data.

When pressed as to the party’s target audience for online political advertising, he said that the group is “targeting a wide range of people” but “especially those over 40, who are much more likely to engage with our posts.”

“Social media gives the Brexit Party a massive opportunity to reach millions of voters online and many voters who are less likely to be engaged in the Westminster political bubble,” he added.

“Spending online is a priority for our campaign to reach the wider public.”

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Better regulation won’t divert attention away from Facebook’s shortfalls in other areas, European Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová told EURACTIV.com, criticising Mark Zuckerberg’s recent call for tighter regulatory frameworks on internet services.

Taking advantage of the Easter recess in which UK Parliamentarians are on a break, the Brexit Party has been ramping up its online promotional campaigns in order to attract a firm base of support in the run-up to the European elections in May, while the Tories and Labour have been relatively quiet in terms of EU election advertising.

On Thursday, EURACTIV spoke to co-founder of the political advertising monitoring platform, WhoTargetsMe’s Sam Jeffers, in order to discuss the Brexit Party’s strategy, and what the party could be hoping to achieve with their injection of cash for political advertising, ahead of the EU elections.

“Looking at the numbers, it’s important to remember that it’s still early on in the existence of the Brexit party, and that there has also been a significant quantity of spending on political ads from other groups involved in the Brexit debate,” he said.

Perhaps more telling, Jeffers added, was the relatively low quantities spent by the Conservative party.

“This data shows that in reality, the Tories don’t want to campaign,” he said. “The fact that the European elections could happen in the UK at all is a source of embarrassment for many in the party.”

“It will be interesting to see if they ramp up their advertising in this area, in the lead up to the elections.”

Jeffers also said that the nature of the content of the Brexit Party’s advertising reflects their political stance against the European project and that as a result, certain EU issues are likely to be polarised.

“The EU elections should actually be about multi-issue campaigning,” he said. “But with the adverts from both camps – hard remainers and hard leavers – the public will, unfortunately, lose a sense of the wider European debate.”

Facebook says political ads fix brings 'unprecedented levels of accountability'

Facebook has unveiled a raft of measures to prevent foreign campaigns from interfering in national elections. But the plans will also make it more complicated for pan-European parties to advertise in countries where they are not directly represented.

Meanwhile, an April opinion poll suggests the Brexit party could be set to win big in the European election, should the UK take part. According to projections by YouGov, Farage’s group could win around 23 seats in the European Parliament.

However, reports have been surfacing this week that UK Prime Minister Theresa May could be set to bring her Brexit deal about to Parliament for a fourth vote next week. If passed, it would render the European elections in the UK unnecessary.

Earlier this month, Facebook introduced new measures that they say would bring “unprecedented levels of accountability” to political advertisers on the platform.

Under the plans, political advertisers will be required to have a representative in the member state in which they hope to advertise. The move prompted a wave of criticism from pan-European Parties, with liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt telling the Financial Times that the plans would be “killing the idea of European democracy.”

Moreover, in a move that may raise privacy concerns, Facebook will be asking all EU advertisers to verify their identity and location by submitting documents and using technical checks.

Facebook Director of Product Management Rob Leathern told EURACTIV at the time that “identity documents” would be needed as part of the location validation process.

With regards to Facebook’s move towards making political advertising more transparent, WhoTargetsMe’s Jeffers had mixed feelings.

“In one sense, you can praise Facebook for what they’ve done, which is more than anyone else,” he said.

“But particularly in the EU, dealing with a plethora of member states – some of which have no Facebook representatives based there, it will be really difficult for them to get this right.”

Facebook doesn't have all the answers, says Clegg, as social media giant clamps down on political ads

Facebook users looking to run paid-for political advertisements will be required to abide by a set of new rules in the run-up to the European elections, the head of the social media giant’s global affairs Nick Clegg said on Monday (28 January).

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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