Online political ads forced to declare who is behind them in govt crackdown

'Digital imprints' would be required for all paid and organic content.

Online political ads: proposal would apply all year round (Getty Images)
Online political ads: proposal would apply all year round (Getty Images)

Online political ads could be forced to include a label to show who is behind the messaging in plans from the government to introduce greater transparency.

The "digital imprints" would be required for all paid and organic content across sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It would be in force all year round, not just during election periods.

Chloe Smith, constitution and devolution minister, said the move is a "big step forward towards making UK politics even more transparent" and would lead to one of the most "comprehensive set of regulations" in the world.

She added: "People want to engage with politics online. That's where campaigners connect with voters and is why ahead of elections, almost half of political advertising budgets are now spent on digital content and activity.

"But people want to know who is talking. Voters value transparency, so we must ensure that there are clear rules to help them see who is behind campaign content online."

The move means that voters will get the same transparency from online content as they do from leaflets they receive in the post.

The Cabinet Office explained that the digital imprints will also help the regulator to better monitor who is promoting election material and enforce spending rules. It has opened a consultation on the proposals.

There have been many calls for online political ads to be better regulated for some time from the Electoral Commission and the House of Lords.

The government said it has worked "closely" with social media platforms, the Electoral Commission and devolved administrations to develop the proposals.

In November 2019, Twitter banned all political ads globally, saying that exposure should be "earned, not bought".

Facebook has introduced a feature that lets users "opt out" of receiving political ads. In the UK, for those who want to run a political ad the platform requires them to go through an authorisation process and include a "paid for by" disclaimer.

Rebecca Stimson, head of UK public policy at Facebook, said: "We have long called for updated rules for the era of digital political campaigning and so we welcome the government's consultation.

"Facebook has led the way on online transparency by requiring all political ads on our platforms to have a 'paid for by' disclaimer and placing them into an Ad Library for everyone to see. We look forward to further engaging with the government on this important consultation.”