Britons vote for a new government on June 8 and, until recently, election campaigns have been tightly controlled affairs with limits on how much parties can spend per constituency, the requirement to submit detailed accounts and no political advertising on television. But the rules don’t cover online advertising – allowing Facebook to cash in, having used the Conservative Party’s 2015 victory as a case study. The Electoral Commission, which exists to regulate elections, estimates that in the 2015 general election more than 99 per cent of spending on social media was with Facebook, with the Conservatives splashing out £1.21m, Labour £160,000, Ukip £91,000, the Liberal Democrats £22,245, the Green party £20,000 and the Scottish National party £5,466.
The commission admits these are estimates based on invoices and receipts and more could have gone through third parties. In 2015 parties and candidates were not required to categorise spending with social media companies and while the commission has already proposed this should change, the 2017 general election is taking place under the same rules.
“We are continually developing our understanding in this area, including through live monitoring of activity,” it said in a statement. “We will report after the election on campaign spending, and on what changes to the regulatory regime may need to be made for future polls.”