Electoral Commission Calls For An End To Misleading Electoral Campaign Techniques

The Electoral Commission has called for an end to misleading campaign techniques which it states risks undermining voters’ trust, in its report examining the administration of the 2019 General Election.

The report notes that: “During the election period, voters raised concerns directly with us and other regulators about both printed and digital material that some campaigners were using at the election. They were concerned about the presentation, labelling or layout of campaign material that they thought was misleading, and also about the messaging and content of some campaigns.”

Last year the local media industry and NMA ran the #TrustedElectionNews campaign urging party leaders to put a stop fake political party “newspapers”.

For part of the campaign, the local media industry wrote a letter to politicians urging them to focus their efforts on helping to find a future for sustainable journalism rather than passing off “fake newspaper propaganda as trusted local news.”

The Commission’s report highlighted that “information about who was responsible for printed campaign material wasn’t always clear or easily readable; some digital campaign material didn’t have any information about its source at all.”

It continued: “Campaigners should include information about themselves – called an ‘imprint’ – on their campaign material. The law already requires them to do this for printed material in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland.

“At this election there were issues with some campaigners’ materials in Northern Ireland that didn’t say who was responsible for them. The UK Government should update the law so that election campaigners in Northern Ireland have to put imprints on their printed materials.

“There were also complaints from voters in Great Britain because some campaigners included imprints that were not clear on letters or leaflets. All campaigners should respect the spirit of the imprint rules and provide easily readable information about themselves.”

When examining online campaigning, the report found that more than half of people (58 per cent) agreed with the statement that, in general, “campaigning online is untrue or misleading, and over half (52 per cent) said “inadequate control of political activity on social media” was a problem.

The Commission noted that, “the imprint rules only apply to printed material and don’t cover digital material. This is a major gap in the rules that require campaigners to provide information about themselves on their campaign material.

“The UK Government has confirmed that it will consult on new rules for imprints on digital campaigning, adding, “we will help develop these new rules so they provide transparency for voters and are workable for campaigners.”

The report noted that although Facebook, Google and Snapchat published libraries and reports of the political advertising run on their platforms and channels during the election. However, it said that, “they still don’t provide enough information about digital campaigning.”

It concluded that, “[there] should be a legal requirement so that we and voters can see more information about who is campaigning. Social media companies should be required to provide more detailed and accurate data about election campaigns and spending in their ad libraries so we and voters can see more information about who is campaigning.”