Government accused of misusing public funds over Facebook ads targeting marginal seats

Posted On: 
2nd November 2019

Government ministers have been criticised for using public funds to target voters in marginal seats using Facebook adverts.

Labour MP Ian Lucas has written to the government questioning how much was spent on the adverts.
HM Government

The paid adverts went live on Tuesday, the same day that Boris Johnson secured backing for a general election.

Each advert claims that the government is investing £25m in certain towns and adds: “We want local people to determine how this money is spent.”

Conservative Party criticised for altering BBC headline in Facebook advert

Priti Patel slams Facebook and says security services should be able to see encrypted conversations

EXCL Dominic Raab massively outspent his rivals on Facebook ads during failed Tory leadership bid

Designed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the adverts refer to the £3.6bn Towns Fund launched by the prime minister in September.

The adverts have now been removed by Facebook for not being "correctly labelled as being about social issues".

Many of the towns targeted by the adverts, such Northampton, Milton Keynes and Lincoln have very slim Conservative majorities. For example, Mansfield, one of the towns targeted by the ad campaign, was won by the Conservatives in 2017 with a majority of 1,000 votes.

Labour MP Ian Lucas has called the adverts an “outrageous” misuse of public money and has written to Michael Gove questioning how much money was spent and how decisions were made over who to target.

“These adverts are being deployed to Tory target seats on the cusp of a general election,” Mr Lucas told the Huffington Post.

“It would be an insult to our intelligence to say that this isn’t public money being used for political purposes. It clearly is.”

The controversy surrounding these ads come amid pressure on social media platforms to restrict political advertising.

Earlier this week, Twitter announced that it would soon ban all political advertising on its platform.

But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and ruled out making a similar move on his social network.

The Town Fund itself has come under fire after it emerged the announced £3.6bn figure contained just £1.3bn of new money, with the rest consisting of a previously-announce high street fund.

A government spokesperson said: “These posts were published before the election was called and parliament has not yet been dissolved.

“All towns selected were chosen according to the same selection methodology, including analysis of deprivation, exposure to Brexit, productivity, economy resilience and investment opportunities.”