"Close the loopholes" in digital political campaigning, urges Electoral Reform Society

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 21 May 2019 in News

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock said “we currently have analogue regulations governing a digital age”

The Electoral Reform Society has issued a call for swift action to "close the loopholes" in UK political campaigning brought by the growth of social media.

With the All Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Campaign Transparency launching an inquiry into the UK’s electoral campaign rules, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock said “we currently have analogue regulations governing a digital age”.

Meanwhile in a new report, the ERS warned the UK is “wide open” to foreign interference in elections, with the group pointing to growing fears “dark money and disinformation” could undermine democracy.

Examining spending in the 2016 EU referendum campaign, the report also found the Electoral Commission lacked the powers required to demand relevant evidence from technology platforms such as Facebook and that it struggled to keep track of spending by all campaign participants.

The report found that even when the Electoral Commission found evidence to suggest criminal offences had been committed during the campaign it was forced to pass responsibility onto the National Crime Agency because it lacked the remit and capacity to trace the origins of the money involved.

Kinnock, who will chair the new group on campaign transparency, said: “The fall-out from the 2016 referendum has exposed the fact that our democracy is in danger of being overwhelmed by a toxic combination of dodgy data and dirty money. Drip by drip we have seen how our legislative and regulatory frameworks are simply not fit for purpose.

“Our political system can only function effectively if the public is confident that our elections and referenda are being policed effectively and that the playing field is level. Yet we currently have analogue regulations governing a digital age.

“That’s why I’m working with Fair Vote and the Electoral Reform Society on the APPG for Electoral Campaigning Transparency. If we fail to tackle this issue head-on now, then future generations will pay a heavy price.”

The ERS report calls for an extension of the ‘imprint’ requirement, in which campaign materials show who produced them, to online political advertising, and for greater transparency in how campaigners report funding and spending, including moves to report social media spend separately.

It also suggests the creation of a single online database of political adverts, which would be publicly available and easily searchable, to increase transparency and allow voters to identify who has produced a piece of content, and for regulator to be given greater enforcement powers, including stronger fines.

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