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Details of a quarter of a million pound anonymous campaign to “chuck Chequers” found on Facebook submitted to Committee

20 October 2018

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is today publishing details of a Facebook advertising campaign, which has been operating in the past 10 months, microtargeting users to ask them to engage with a pro-Brexit, anti-Chequers website. The analysis was completed by the company 89up and submitted to the Committee as evidence into its inquiry into fake news and misinformation.

Written evidence

The site, called the ‘Mainstream Network', has no known named organisation, UK address, group or individuals publicly connected with it, and this information cannot be found. The campaign is estimated to have reached between 10 and 11 million people on Facebook, with an estimated spend on Facebook of £257,000 based on this reach.

One of the digital adverts discovered by 89up encourage users to email their MP asking them to “chuck chequers.” When clicked on, the advert then generates a pre-populated email lobbying their own MP on the Chequers deal. 89up conclude that this email is in breach of GDPR rules since the email automatically includes its own email address in the BCC field, most likely in order to collect the sender's email address for further marketing purposes.

Two members of the DCMS Committee, Damian Collins MP and Paul Farrelly MP, are amongst many MPs whose constituents have been targeted.

Chair's comment

Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Committee said

"Here we have an example of a clearly sophisticated organisation spending lots of money on a political campaign, and we have absolutely no idea who is behind it. The only people who know who is paying for these adverts is Facebook.

“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. Facebook has recently announced a set of changes to increase transparency around political advertising on its platform. This example offers Facebook an opportunity to show it is committed to making that change happen - 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."

Further information

Image: iStockphoto