(This piece isn’t about the process of fact checking a political ad, it’s about how you might fact check lots of them. If you’re interested in the former, this guide from Full Fact is a good start.)

A couple of weeks ago we published ‘10 ideas for regulating political ads’ (which you might want to read before you read this).

One idea that some argue for that we don’t agree with is having a regulator fact check them. In the heat of an election campaign, we don’t think it’s sustainable or desirable for a regulator, no matter how notionally independent…


An example of a contentious political Facebook ad Vote Leave used in the 2016 EU referendum.

Yesterday, the UK Advertising Standards Authority’s CEO Guy Parker published a piece outlining some of the challenges of regulating political advertising in the UK (challenges which are also broadly applicable to other democracies).

We agree that it’s difficult to regulate the content of political ads. That’s why we don’t think it’s the answer to this problem. It’s simply too politicised a task for regulators or experts to ever perform in an election campaign, even if the scope of their work was narrowed to examine only the most egregious political lies.

For example, perhaps the most notorious piece of political communication…


Tonight sees the first ever leaders climate change debate on Channel 4. It’s an unprecedented elevation in the status of the environment as a political issue in British elections and comes on the heels of some of the largest climate change protests the country has ever seen.

Given this new prominence, both as a campaign moment and in the wider public interest, you may have thought that the election campaign would have seen large quantities of political advertising on the subject.

So far, this has not been the case.

The parties and the environment

We looked at how many times four keywords — “planet”, “environment”…


We think we’ve got to the bottom of the appearance - and disappearance - of the Tory leader in the latest batch of Conservative ads.

We all know that Boris Johnson isn’t universally popular. The Conservative Party seems to appreciate this too. In a new batch of targeted Facebook ads the party uses him, and his opposing party leaders, in quite different ways. It’s not just a creative choice. It seems to be the case that whether you see Boris or not depends on where you live, and how likely it was that you voted to leave the EU in 2016.


Last week we wrote a story based on Snap’s latest political ad transparency data. The data was labelled inaccurately, so we drew the wrong conclusion from it.

Last week Snap released data about political ads that have run on its platform.

The data was wrong. It contained a column (labelled “Targeting Geo — Postal Code”) that appeared to include postcode districts that were being targeted with an ad campaign. In fact, the column included postcodes that were being excluded from the campaign.

Because the data was incorrect, we made an incorrect conclusion. Rather than the Conservatives targeting Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge seat to defend it, they were targeting everywhere else and excluding Uxbridge (likely to avoid needing to apportion any of that spending to his local campaign budget).


Important note: This story was based on some misleading data supplied by Snap as part of its political ad transparency work, which led us to draw an incorrect conclusion. We performed this analysis in good faith — had the data been correctly labelled, we would not have researched, written and published the piece.

You can read about what happened here:

Though the original piece did include data and context about the wider campaign in Uxbridge we believe to be valid, we have removed it in full to avoid confusion and the possible further propagation of a misleading analysis.


A 2019 General Election report by Tristan Hotham

Vaporwave is a microgenre of electronic music and an Internet meme that emerged in the early 2010s. Vaporwave is musically based on ironic interpretations of chillwave alongside 1980s and 1990s mood music styles such as smooth jazz or elevator music. The style’s visual aesthetic (often stylized as “AESTHETICS”) incorporates early Internet imagery, VHS degradation, late 1990s web design, glitch art, and cyberpunk tropes, as well as anime, Greco-Roman statues and 3D-rendered objects.


You may have seen elements of this report in this Observer/Guardian news piece and then also reported on the Andrew Marr show. The following article by Tristan Hotham, is a detailed report on A/B testing by the parties that those pieces were based upon.

Political parties using Facebook ads have a powerful capacity to hone their messages. Unlike the past where expensive and hard to organise focus groups were the only avenue available for parties to test their messages; today all the political parties engage in what marketing calls A/B testing (aka multivariate testing).

Political parties have never had it…


As the spectre of a UK General Election looms in the Autumn, some British political parties have been ramping up their Facebook ad campaigns.

The Conservatives, in particular, have invested heavily in the past month, outspending their nearest opponent nearly 3:1.

Between July 13th and August 11th, they spent £80,424, while the Labour Party spent £30,348. During the same period, the Brexit Party spent a little under £9,708 and the Liberal Democrats spent just £4,813.


The survey website Facebook users were targeted with in a nationwide data-gathering excercise.

Over 1000 Facebook ads have been launched by the Conservative Party — the majority targeting men over 45 — as part of a nationwide data-gathering exercise that was launched in the week since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.

Conservatives have spent over £23k in the past week promoting ads to users, with the majority prompting them to fill out a survey to tell the party their top political priorities and give their address and contact details, as well as permission to an extensive privacy policy.

The Conservative ads link to the survey with various images and videos of Boris Johnson…

Who Targets Me

Helping people understand targeted digital political ads. Want to see who's targeting you? Download the extension at www.whotargets.me.

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