Facebook criticised as secretive ‘Chuck Chequers’ campaign is exposed

Posted On: 
20th October 2018

An unknown campaign has spent over £250,000 urging voters to lobby their MPs to "chuck Chequers", a report by a Parliamentary select committee claims.

MPs have criticised Facebook for failing to ensure that political campaigns are transparent.
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MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee claim to have exposed a 10-month Facebook advertising campaign urging voters to back a hard Brexit. 

Unknown donors are believed to have spent £257,000 on the campaign, which directed users to a site called the 'Mainstream Network’ and is estimated to have reached 11 million people.

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Damian Collins, Chair of the DCMS Committee said that a sophisticated organisation was behind the campaign, and that he had “no idea” who was funding it. 

“The only people who know who is paying for these adverts is Facebook,” he said. 

Collins and his fellow DCMS Committee member Paul Farrelly are among MPs whose constituents have been targeted.  

MPs have called on Facebook to improve its transparency, and warned that the social network’s secretive approach to political adverts risked undermining democracy. 

“While debate on one of the central issues facing our country is part of a thriving democracy, there is an important question of where campaigning stops and political advertising starts” Collins said.

“If you are targeted with a message or asked to do lobby your MP, you should know exactly who is behind the organisation asking you to do it.” 

89up, the digital campaign group which shared the information with MPs, said that the campaign’s backers were likely to be better resourced than Ukip.

“Mainstream Network has potentially a bigger budget than UKIP, and is aiming to influence MPs, yet there is no transparency whatsoever over who is paying for this website,” 89up said in written evidence to the inquiry. 

“Facebook claims to be tackling fake news but individuals or groups with a political agenda can still remain entirely anonymous on the platform and reach millions of people.”

The Mainstream Network campaign was exposed as part of the DCMS Committee’s inquiry into ‘fake news’. 

The revelation follows a Facebook announcement that it was introducing new policies to increase the transparency of political campaigns. From November 7, all political advertisements will have to be clearly labelled and included in a searchable archive.