Forget Twitter Ads -- Politics' Social Problem Is Facebook Accountability

Twitter has made a stand -- and you can either disagree, like Trump, or agree, like Hillary Clinton, with the sentiment that politicians should not be allowed to "game" the system if the party behind them pays. Their views should be spread by people they truly appeal to.

That was the general thrust of the Twitter announcement, and it has received considerable support with campaigners who believe social media can be used to compromise politics, as was alleged to happen with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Their concern has been heightened by Facebook revealing it would not be fact-checking statements made in political advertising. 

So Twitter has earned a lot of plaudits -- but here's a difficult truth to swallow. Twitter political advertising is but a blip on the radar of the GBP3m spent by the UK main political parties on Facebook in the 2017 election. The Conservative Party is the most keen to, as The Telegraph puts it, talk to a younger audience than that found on Facebook.

Even so, the biggest spender only put in GBP25,000 two years ago. That was as much as the Labour and Lib Dem parties chipped in combined. Even with the SNP added in, the combined budgets for all four parties barely exceeded GBP50,000. This compares to GBP3m on Facebook. That is roughly sixty times more spend going to Zuck's empire, compared to Dorsey's. 

So where does that leave us? Well, political parties will have to rely on social sharing on Twitter to get their message across. On Facebook, they will need to be registered as political entities and can then post political ads without, it seems, Facebook feeling compelled to test for fake news. That will leave us with the ASA, which should come to a conclusion on an ad several months down the line, once the campaign is over. 

Already we have news of the Tories creating a so-called "meme machine" that is expected to go into overdrive for the next six weeks. We also have the Labour Party, according to The Telegraph, signing a deal with data collector Experian to segment voters into small niches so they can can expose them to appropriate messages they hope will resonate enough to secure their vote. It's politics' answer to personalised marketing and comes with a huge warning for the party that it must stay on the right side of GDPR in its use of personal information. 

In the meantime, the wrangling has only just begun over how any leaders' debates will be staged and televised, with The Guardian suggesting the Conservative and Labour parties appear to be most interested in a simple head-to-head, with other party leaders missing.

It's an interesting point because when it was discussed with a panel on the BBC News yesterday, the general view appeared to be that tv doesn't matter so much any more -- this is the social media election we're heading into.

That leaves us with the parties focussing on Facebook, the site that brought us the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and is clear that it will not be fact-checking political proclamations or ads. 

It's not the best place to be, is it? If a paper says something, it is held to account. If a leader makes a point on tv, they can be challenged by the other leader, the chair of the debate or an audience member. On social, politicians can just keep on pumping out statements and ads that may be challenged somewhere down in the comments section, but they will certainly not be fact checked. 

The unappealing seeking the impossible through the unaccountable. It has a ring to it, doesn't it?

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