I’m Mark Scott, POLITICO’s Chief Technology Correspondent, and my job is to look at how the worlds of tech and politics are increasingly overlapping. Right now, I’m keeping a close eye on the UK’s national election on December 12, and how all the political parties are using social media and other online tactics to woo would-be voters.

This is the fifteenth election I am covering in the last four years (from the US 2016 race to October’s Canada election), and digital campaigning — both from traditional parties, domestic groups and, potentially, foreign actors — has only become more sophisticated over time.

This AMA is not about the wider UK election or the debate on Brexit. Instead, we’re going to focus on how the digital campaign is playing out and what that means for both UK citizens and those elsewhere as national political campaigns increasingly become digital.

Want to know what’s going on online in the UK election? Ask me anything and don't forget to sign up (for free!) to our UK Election Sprint newsletter (https://www.politico.eu/uk-2019-election-sprint/?utm_source=redditama) and our London Playbook newsletter (https://www.politico.eu/london-playbook/?utm_source=redditama).

Proof: https://ibb.co/GW1hS4r

Comments: 50 • Responses: 9  • Date: 

jcampbell0511 karma

Given that GDPR was supposed to fix all of the controversy and issues around Cambridge analytics. Do you think it’s had an effect ? And if not what can be done to make sure political parties follow the same standards we expect of our private companies ?

JagoK12 karma

In short, no. What happened after GDPR (Europe's new privacy standards) came into effect in May, 2018 was that the UK's political parties went out and collected everyone's information again. Why? So that they could actively target people using their online data.

The country's privacy agency came out with a report criticizing these data-collection practices (it's worth a read, here https://ico.org.uk/media/about-the-ico/consultations/2615563/guidance-on-political-campaigning-draft-framework-code-for-consultation.pdf) but they can't move on that without UK lawmakers overhauling local election rules.

Right now, political parties can be fined like private companies when they misuse people's data. But any investigation would take months, if not years, to complete. And by the time that's happened, the election would be over, so any effect on bad behavior would be minimal.

Krakenon23947 karma

There have been a lot of articles recently about the rising prominence of third party campaigning groups on social media, such as political meme pages and more traditional lobbying groups. How much of an impact do you think these groups have in comparison to the official digital campaigns for political parties?

JagoK7 karma

It's a big issue in the UK election. These groups (many of which are tangentially linked to the traditional political parties) represent roughly two-thirds of all the political ad spending on Facebook since the beginning of the election, so it's a big chunk of change we're talking about here.

The problem is that there's little oversight of these groups (they're supposed to register with UK authorities, but many don't). Often, they don't disclose whose behind them (either on their Facebook pages or websites), and it's almost impossible to really know where their funding is coming front, other than trolling through their corporate records, if they have them.

Other countries like Canada have significantly curtailed the ability for third-party groups to participate in elections, mostly by limiting how much money they can spend on social media ads. That hasn't happen in the UK, and it's a troubling trend.

You can find some more information on third-party spending here.

JagoK5 karma

Morning all. The UK election is only four days away, and the final big push on Facebook political ads (Facebook is where most of this type of politicking takes place) has already started.

After holding back during the last month, the Conservatives are now the biggest spenders (for December 8, the latest day available within Facebook's ad transparency tool) with £4,506.

In comparison, the Brexit Party (which had similarly held back in recent weeks) is second, but only spent £548 yesterday - so not really in the same ballpark. Labour comes third, with just £498 in spending, while the Liberal Democrats -- the party that has spent the most on social media ads since the beginning of the election - doled out just £50 yesterday.

What does this tell us? That in the final days before Thursday's vote, the Conservatives are finally ratcheting up their spending to woo supporters, while the other parties - so far - are holding back a little to likely make a final push in the final days.

There's lots going on. What's on your mind?

JagoK4 karma

Hi all (and especially u/potatolulz u/memetrollsXD and u/Maragil), seeing lots of questions about my lunchtime food habits. Personally, I'm a big fan of a sandwich (any sandwich, frankly). And don't forget coffee. The more, the merrier!

sarbjit_smarkets4 karma

Is there any data on the impact of non-affiliated campaign groups spending on social media to swing voters?

Also, are there any assessments you are aware of on the impact of political messages on whatsapp that seemed targeted to specific demographics which have been built up over the last couple of years?

JagoK-1 karma

When it comes to third-party groups, there's lots of data on how much they are spending, but the impact is harder to discern. With a lot of things on social media, the effectiveness of campaigns is an open question (do people really change their minds after seeing an ad?) But what is true is that a lot of third-party groups have been targeting their messages to swing/marginal constituencies. Here's an example that I wrote about yesterday: https://twitter.com/FBPoliticalAds/status/1203740148812386304?s=20

RE: WhatsApp - unlike other countries like Spain and India, the internet messaging service has yet to make a big impact on UK politics. Anecdotally, I hear of grassroots campaigns to target swing voters in specific marginals, but as of yet, there hasn't been a massive use of WhatsApp for political messaging.

___JK___3 karma

What are the messages that political parties are using to drive their online campaigns?

JagoK3 karma

A lot of them are what's also happening in the offline world. For the Conservatives, it's all about Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Labour wants to talk about anything that isn't the country's pending departure from the EU. The Liberal Democrats started talking about their very pro-Remain messaging, but as that hasn't resonated with voters, have shifted to more domestic issues. And the Brexit Party has spent the last couple of weeks attacking Boris Johnson and his position on Brexit.

nathanpmyoung3 karma

How can you measure the effects of the technology on the election?

JagoK5 karma

It's a tough one to answer. Right now, most officials and regulators (both in the UK and elsewhere) are relying heavily on the social media companies to give them any insight into how technology -- be it social media ads, crowdsourcing political funding or other areas -- is affecting elections.

That's something, to be fair, that the tech companies aren't the biggest fan of. In part, that's because they want such decisions to be made by governments, and not them. But it's also a question of tech companies not wanting to be held responsible for how their tech may, or may not, be used to influence the outcome of an election.

johnlen1n2 karma

What is the cringiest piece of social media you have ever seen posted by a political party in the UK?

JagoK2 karma

Not the cringiest. But this Twitter video from ex-Conservative MP David Gauke is pretty funny https://twitter.com/DavidGauke/status/1203724772632408074

ConnorI1 karma

What is the effect of UK election laws on online tactics, and are they significantly different then the types seen by voter in the US?

JagoK2 karma

Like in the US, the UK's electoral rules are way out of date, and while UK regulators have been calling for an update, nothing has been passed ahead of Thursday's vote. Here's what I wrote about what's going on: https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-general-election-facebook-misinformation-boris-johnson-interference-russia/?utm_source=redditama