Is digital political advertising causing a democratic deficit?

Hugo Rifkind has written a very good article in today’s Times newspaper outlining his concern that voter segmentation, targeting and communication practises – now in common use (to some degree) by all mainstream political campaigns – are preventing politicians from being held to account for the claims and promises they’re making to voters.

You can read the piece here.

The conclusion he reaches is one that I wholly agree with and have been calling for regularly for some time: political advertising needs to be regulated.

Rifkind’s solution to the lack of transparency on political campaigns’ advertising is:
“It should be law that every last piece of paid political communication is made public, perhaps on the Electoral Commission’s website.”

The implication is that journalists, interested citizens and opposition groups would then be able to scrutinise the ads and hold the purveyors to account.

I would go further and setup an independent committee of fact-checkers to rule on whether factual claims in political adverts are misleading and give them the power to take down communications that are not truthful.

However, for this to be possible they must have visibility of all the ads being run and so some sort of monitoring (or pre-clearance) system will certainly be necessary.


  1. I support the idea of making every piece of paid political communication visible and accesible via the Electoral Commission’s website. I’m also supportive of the idea of an independent committee of ‘fact-checkers’, perhaps paid for by a levy on paid political communication. That would mean a monitoring system, however I can’t see how pre-clearance would work. It would be impossible to set up a robust enough system to do fact-checking and approve it in a short enough timeframe. The danger is that content would be ‘approved’ and later discovered to be untrue. Not sure what the system could be, but perhaps an immediate take down and a fine related to the actual spend and speed in which it was taken down, which would in turn be used to fund the fact-checking.

  2. In the ‘normal’ world all TV advertising is pre-cleared. The burden is on the advertiser to prove claims are true before they’re aired. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to require political campaigns to follow the rules that companies abide by. Having said that, relying on parties to self-regulate, with a regulator to enforce rules when issues arise, would be a very welcome first step!

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