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General election 2017: The 23 Facebook ‘dark adverts’ targeted at voters in Leyton and Wanstead

PUBLISHED: 17:51 07 June 2017 | UPDATED: 18:03 07 June 2017

Screen-shots of Facebook 'dark adverts' targeted at voters in Leyton and Wanstead in the last six weeks

Screen-shots of Facebook 'dark adverts' targeted at voters in Leyton and Wanstead in the last six weeks

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Political parties have targeted people in Leyton and Wanstead 23 times in the last six weeks using Facebook “dark adverts” to try and influence votes.

As voters head to the polls tomorrow, the Recorder can reveal how political ads containing specific messages have played a part in local campaigning.

So called Facebook “dark ads” are personalised commercials shown to users based on their age, sex and interests.

This type of advertising is currently completely unregulated and some groups have blamed it for strongly influencing last year’s Brexit vote.

Will Moy, director of fact checking website Full Fact, said: “It’s possible to target dark ads at millions of people in this country without the rest of us knowing about it.

Subliminal messages? This Facebook advert was posted by the Green Party targeting voters in Leyton and WansteadSubliminal messages? This Facebook advert was posted by the Green Party targeting voters in Leyton and Wanstead

“Inaccurate information could be spreading with no one to scrutinise it.”

Unlike billboards or TV ads, which everyone can see, targeted Facebook advertising is unique to each user and so is extremely difficult to track and regulate.

But a new British citizen-data group called Who Targets Me? is attempting to monitor dark ads using an extension on the Chrome browser.

The Recorder was given access to its data by Bureau Local, part of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

A Labour Facebook dark advert highlights 10 reasons to vote for the partyA Labour Facebook dark advert highlights 10 reasons to vote for the party

It shows Labour posted 11 dark ads over a six week period from April 28 and used a mix of posts about its own policies and others attacking the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats

One Labour ad hits out over tuition fees, saying: “Under Tories university tuition fees have trebled to £9,000 a year.”

Another ad promises to clamp down on “tax dodgers and tax havens” and one post shows a video listing 10 reasons to vote Labour, highlighting key policies on pensions and NHS investment.

The Lib Dems had the second highest number of adverts, seven.

Liberal Democrat dark adverts in Leyton and Wanstead stuck to core campaign messages about BrexitLiberal Democrat dark adverts in Leyton and Wanstead stuck to core campaign messages about Brexit

Theirs focused on the EU, with slogans including “Support a say on any Brexit deal” and others about decriminalising cannabis.

The Greens had four ads and used a “Do you know how Green you really are?” video showing people agreeing with policies only to find out later they are from the Green Party.

The Tories did not post any darks ads locally.

Louis Knight-Webb, co-founder of Who Targets Me?, said it was important to understand how Facebook dark ads may be influencing elections.

Dark ads: This Green video showed interviews with people questioned about the party's policiesDark ads: This Green video showed interviews with people questioned about the party's policies

“It’s my personal hope that further down the line this data will be useful in bringing about electoral reform,” he said.

None of the political parties commented.

THE NATIONAL PICTURE

How are political parties using dark ads nationally?

Some of the Labour dark ads promote the party's policy on scrapping tuition feesSome of the Labour dark ads promote the party's policy on scrapping tuition fees

According to The Bureau Local, which has analysed data about 889 Facebook dark adverts nationally, the Conservatives are heavily targeting Jeremy Corbyn - with nine out of 10 of their adverts attacking him.

The Labour Party, by contrast, is hardly mentioning Theresa May in its social media campaign with only 9 per cent of the 136 different ads seen referring to the prime minister.

The adverts Labour is promoting hardest are not related to policy, but are urging people to get out and vote. The next most common topics addressed in paid-for ads by the party are the NHS and tuition fees.

The Conservatives are focusing most on Brexit, the economy and security, while the Liberal Democrats are using Facebook ads to talk about Brexit and dementia but also to seek donations.

This colourful Facebook dark ad promotes the Lib Dem's policy on decriminalising cannabisThis colourful Facebook dark ad promotes the Lib Dem's policy on decriminalising cannabis

The data taken from the Facebook feeds of more than 8,000 voters nationally has been gathered by the citizen data project Who Targets Me?.

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