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Minister pledges to improve political campaign transparency online

Posted on: August 13, 2020 by Mariella Brown

Political campaign content promoted online by a party or campaigner will need to provide a digital imprint, the UK’s Constitution Minister has said.

The imprint will contain explicit and accessible information linked to any material “intended to achieve electoral success” in order to show who is promoting it and on whose behalf.

The plans seek to bring regulations for online material in line with traditional postal campaign leaflets which already are required to carry the name of the leaflet’s promoter on the paper.

The proposals follow calls by the Society of Editors for the government and local authorities to ensure political campaign materials do not appear to ape independent news organisations, under the SoE’s Campaign for Real News.

Writing for the Telegraph Chloe Smith, Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution (pictured), said the proposal would also “help tackle intimidation in public life by ensuring that campaigners are more accountable for the content they post online.”

The rules would be enforced all year-round and will apply regardless of the country content is being promoted from.

Almost half of political advertising budgets are now spent on digital content and activity in the run up to elections: 42.8 per cent of the total advertising spend for the 2017 UK Parliament election.

The new digital imprints would make the UK’s measures world-leading, the Minister said.

Measures were also set out to mitigate the effect on freedom of speech.

Ms Smith said: “One of the core tenets of our democracy is our right to free and fair debate. We must not stifle this. It is for rival campaigners, a robust and independent free press, and of course, voters, to question or rebut and ultimately make decisions based on the strength of an argument.”

The Consultation Paper adds: “The intention is not to create a regime which will police the accuracy or truthfulness of content. Policy or political arguments which can be rebutted by rival campaigners or an independent free press as part of the normal course of political debate are not regulated. The Government does not support the creation of a new body to regulate the content of political statements.”

Alongside the digital imprint, the government has said they are developing an online media literacy strategy to help the public question the validity of information and protect themselves against false information online.

A public consultation is now open on the technical proposals for the “digital imprints” and the government says they will welcome feedback on whether digital imprints should be expanded beyond what is considered election material to wider online political advertising.

Consultation responses can be made on the gov.uk website until 4 November 2020.

Picture: Chloe Smith MP, courtesy of Parliament