IPA calls for register of online political ads

The IPA has issued an urgent call for a publicly available, platform-neutral, industry-owned register of all political ads online. According to the professional body that represents the leading ad agencies in the UK, the register should be funded by the online platforms with oversight by the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS).

IPA calls for register of online political ads

Register requirements: 

The IPA calls for each online platform to be responsible for populating the industry-owned register by providing all their political ad campaign data and metadata as feeds. Furthermore, echoing Full Fact, the UK’s Independent Factchecking Charity, the IPA calls for the register to be in real time, machine-readable, and with full details of content, targeting and spend. 

To fund this registering, the IPA moots the idea of online platforms charging a fixed fee for each individual political ad creative used, irrespective of the scale of use. This would correlate registry funding to the workload of political messaging it would have to handle. It would also act as a check on political microtargeting which has previously been highlighted by the IPA as vulnerable to abuse.  

Urgency for an online registry of political advertising: 

In terms of urgency, this latest move supersedes the IPA’s wider call made last year – due to the absence of political advertising regulation – for a publicly accessible and searchable register of all political ad messages across all media. 

This is in light of the fact that online platforms are continuing to run microtargeted Brexit-related political ads online that are unregulated and risk polarising political discourse. Both sides of the debate are serving political messages to the public and to politicians with at best negligible oversight, and for which the platforms are receiving significant advertising revenue. 

The move also follows feedback recently sought by the IPA from the individual platforms, which reveals that while some progress has been made, more urgent, cross-industry action is required in the United Kingdom. 

Specific online platform update on political advertising online:  

Google began providing searchable transparency reports for the US midterm elections in November 2018. With regard to the UK they have told the IPA that: “In addition, we are building systems that would enable us to disclose such ads should there be a second EU referendum”

While the IPA recognises this is a positive statement of intent, irrespective of whether a second EU referendum even takes place, the IPA is aware of significant Brexit-related political advertising taking place online right now.

Twitter is currently carrying Brexit-related political advertising. They have advised: “Our policies are publicly available on our website and detail our robust approach to political advertising. We are working on updating these. We are doing our due diligence to get this right and will have more updates to come.” 

The IPA understands that while all political ads on Twitter in the US must meet additional eligibility requirements and file for certification, they are disappointed that this is not the case for the UK at present.The IPA also understands there is no registry or archive of political advertising messages in promoted tweets targeting UK users.

Facebook, meanwhile, does now provide political ad archiving for the UK 

While the IPA applauds this progress from Facebook, it believes that no one platform should work in isolation regarding advertising that has the capacity to undermine the nation’s democratic process.

Says Paul Bainsfair, Director General, IPA:  

“The vast majority of advertising in the UK complies with the law and the self-regulatory codes. It is a great shame that because online political advertising is unregulated, misleading political advertising tarnishes the industry as a whole.

“Back last year we endorsed transparency in the world of political advertising online as the next best thing to regulation. For this reason, we called for a publicly accessible and searchable register of all political ad messages, alongside a moratorium on microtargeted political advertising online. We still call for this, however, given that only small steps are currently being made by the online tech platforms and that they continue to wield such power on voter decision-making, we find it incumbent upon us to call for more urgent action in the form of a register of online political ads. Funded by the tech platforms themselves. 

“While we commend some of the steps taken by the online platforms – they are constructive and going in the right direction – they are still the financial beneficiaries of this type of advertising.  

“Ultimately, no individual platform has the remit, authority and longevity to ensure fairness, transparency and consistency across the board. For this, we need a single body with the resources, cross-industry relationships and regulatory oversight. Which is why we – alongside the acknowledgment by the House of Lords that industry bodies should commit to signing up fully with JICWEBS, suggest that this comes under their jurisdiction.” 

In addition to this latest call, the IPA supports the Electoral Commission’s request for imprints for online political ads. It also awaits the findings of the upcoming final report from the DCMS into Disinformation, for which it has submitted evidence. It also supports yesterday’s (3 February) call by the ICO for a pause on online political advertising until relevant parties and campaigns can agree the appropriate rules.

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