APPG 6th Session Illuminates Anti-Democratic Aspects of Digital Campaigning

July 23, 2019

On Monday the 23rd of July, the sixth APPG session facilitated a lively discussion, mainly focused on digital campaigning, between representatives of Demos and Open Rights Group. Many recurring themes from past sessions were revisited, including curbing data misuse and campaign finance, but Monday’s team introduced some new interpretations and suggestions for potential solutions. Highlights and full audio are available below.

Polly Mackenzie of Demos discussed the, in her view, problematic concept of what she calls “hyper-personalization.” She believes that the extent to which campaigners target individuals leads to a divergence in the overall message of the political party; this is inherently undemocratic as democracy is about “majority rule and not consumer choice.” She gave the example of Brexit, discussing how “3 different Brexits were offered to 3 different voter groups.” She went on to advocate for the creation of an “agile”  regulator, which could keep up with new tactics and have the teeth to actually solve these problems.

Jim Killock of Open Rights Group began his time by questioning the current legality of facebook’s “profiling engine,” which citizens do not consent to be a part of. Conversely, facebook is advertised and presented as a social network, which in the minds of most does not involve using your data to target you for ads and political campaigns. The GDPR lays out consent as a prerequisite to targeted advertising, and Jim believes facebook does not meet that requirement. As others have discussed, he suggested the idea of advanced imprints that tell you “this ad was paid for by x, and you are seeing it because you are y.” He also agreed with Polly about a need for more advanced regulatory agencies that can stay ahead of these problems and take preventative action.

Pascal Crowe of Open Rights Group dove into the problem of payment anonymity. He discussed the existence of facebook groups that can bypass facebook moderators and manage to politically advertise a message to consumers without being tied to a political party’s cash flow. Pascal recommended that the private sector be required to register ads with the electoral commission, along with the need for advanced digital imprints. He also encouraged the ICO and EC to conduct “joint data audits” which would include assigning a monetary value to the data sets held by political advertisers (and counting it towards campaign spend limits), ethically and legally auditing the source of the data, and reserve the right to conduct random “drug tests” to check for illegal activity.

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