New law shows voters who is behind political ads

Intro

The Electoral Commission has welcomed the introduction of a new transparency law for online political campaigning which comes into force today. From today, most digital campaign material will require an imprint, showing who paid for and produced it. This will help voters know who is behind ads they see online and who is paying to influence their vote. 

While parties, campaigners and candidates were already required to add imprints to campaign material, such as leaflets, the Electoral Commission has been calling for this requirement to be extended to digital material since 2003. The Commission has published guidance for political parties and campaigners to help them follow the new imprints law.

Louise Edwards, Director of Regulation and Digital Transformation, said: 

“Campaigning is vital to a healthy democratic system and digital campaigning can be a force for good and encourage political dialogue. But we know that for many voters the benefits of online engagement and debate are overshadowed by concerns around the transparency of political ads. After the last general election, our research showed that 60% of people did not think that information available about politics online is trustworthy. 

“With a general election due in the next 15 months, the new digital imprint requirement will help give voters more information over who is trying to reach them online.

“While this will go some way to increasing public confidence in campaigning, the digital landscape has evolved rapidly since we first started calling for this law 20 years ago. We need broader reforms of the political finance laws to ensure they are fit for a modern democracy.”

The Commission has recommended for some time that the UK Government and Parliament introduce laws to improve the controls on donations and loans. Following the 2015 general election, it also recommended that spending categories should be revised to provide more useful information about what parties and campaigners spend money on, including on digital advertising. 

Ends

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Notes to eds

Notes to editors

  • The digital imprints requirements that come into force today are part of the UK Government’s Elections Act 2022 and are designed to increase the transparency of online political campaigning. The Senedd granted its consent in 2022 for these provisions to apply to Senedd and local government elections in Wales. The Scottish Parliament introduced its own digital imprint rules in 2020, which apply for material for Scottish Parliament and council elections. 
  • As is the case with the law for print campaign material, the Electoral Commission is responsible for enforcing the digital imprint laws for parties and campaigners, while police forces across the UK will be responsible for enforcing the rules for candidates. 
  • Digital campaign material is any campaign content that is electronic (both online and offline). The content could be in text, audio or visual form. It includes social media posts, online ads, websites, messages on apps like WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram, and electronic billboards. It does not include telephone calls, SMS messages, private messaging groups between friends, and emails sent out by parties to their members.
  • Not all digital material will require an imprint. Under the legislation, there are differences between material that has been paid for or not, also referred to as organic material. The Commission has developed statutory guidance that outlines the tests that campaigners need to consider to determine whether their material needs an imprint.
    • If money has been paid to publish an advert of political material, it must have an imprint. Material that is not paid for needs to include an imprint if published by or on behalf of particular groups, including registered political parties, non-party campaigners, candidates, or referendum campaigners. 
    • Material published on a website or app whose primary purpose is journalism does not need an imprint, unless the material is an advert.
  • The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:
    • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
    • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
    • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy, aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency
  • The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK, Welsh and Scottish parliaments.