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Sat Nov 2, 2019, 08:59 AM

Tory Ministers Accused Of Spending Public Cash On Facebook Ads In Election Swing Seats

HuffPost UK has learned that ministers authorised more than 20 adverts, paid for with taxpayers’ cash, to go live on Tuesday, the same day Boris Johnson got MPs to back a snap general election.
The adverts, designed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), refer to the £3.6bn Towns Fund announced by the prime minister in September.
The messages all appear to be specifically targeted at people living in mostly-Brexit-voting towns where the sitting MP has a majority below 5,000 votes, such as Milton Keynes, Morley, Northampton and Workington.
While parliament has not yet dissolved and the civil service has not officially entered the pre-election period when it must remain neutral - known as ‘purdah’ - the ads were published when it was clear a snap poll would happen.


Labour MP Ian Lucas has been pursuing this issue. Here's a letter he wrote to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove challenging this "outrageous" misuse of public cash:

Since Johnson took over as prime minister, there has been blatant use of government powers and public funds for electioneering, from the promises of funding to key marginals to the Get Ready For Brexit campaign that peppered our media for so long up to 31 October to the Queen's Speech itself, which more resembled a royal-sponsored party political broadcast than presentation of a serious working document.

On this occasion, they seem to have overstepped the mark and the pressure seems to have worked - on Facebook, at least:

Facebook Pulls Government Adverts Targeted At Marginal Seats

Facebook has pulled government ads targeted at people in marginal seats, saying the campaign was “not correctly labelled”.
A government spokesperson has since denied the adverts were pulled and said they had been planned to expire on Friday.
a Facebook spokesman told HuffPost UK on Friday evening: “The adverts run by the ‘My Town Page’ were not correctly labelled as being about social issues.

“Ads about social issues, elections or politics that appear on our platforms should include a disclaimer provided by advertisers.

“We are currently working with the advertiser to help them better understand our policies and correctly label ads in the future.”


However, one Twitter user claimed some of the ads were still running:

Ned Simons

Facebook has removed government adverts targeted at marginal seats, from me and @@REWearmouth https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/facebook-pulls-government-adverts-targeted-at-marginal-seats_uk_5dbc77f4e4b0d8b441ce9b73
Laura🐰🐰 @laurabunbun

They haven't pulled them, it says they're still running ads and on their ad library it shows many are still active (including Milton Keynes, a marginal seat)

Yesterday, Twitter announced that it would no longer carry paid political ads, on the basis that it felt "reach" to users needed to be earned, which has brought pressure to bear on Facebook to follow suit on its much larger platform with vastly greater political ad spending.

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