Electoral law currently states that printed election material must contain details – known as an imprint – that show who has produced and paid for the material. The UK Government is proposing that imprints rules be extended to include most digital material.
Under the proposals, all paid-for political material would require an imprint. This would cover material that is trying to influence the public to support, or withhold support from, a political party, someone who holds elected office (such as an MP), or an electoral candidate. It would also apply to campaign material relating to referendums.
The imprint would need to include the name and address of the person or group promoting the material, and whether they are promoting it on behalf of someone else. As is currently the case for printed election material, digital imprints would be required on political material all year round, and not just in the run up to an election.
Extending imprints to digital election materials should help improve public trust and confidence in digital campaigns at future elections and referendums. It would help UK voters understand who is paying to target them online.
Digital campaigning accounts for an increasingly large proportion of spending reported by campaigners after elections. Digital technology offers significant opportunities to engage voters, but it must deliver the same level of transparency voters have on printed material.
The transparency of digital campaigning could be further improved for voters if the digital imprint rules were extended to cover all material from campaigners, even those not registered with us, regardless of whether or not they paid to promote it. The rules would not currently require imprints to be placed on digital material from unregistered campaigners that is not a paid-for advert.
The government’s proposal to require imprints on digital ‘political’ campaign material, not just election material, will further increase transparency for voters. It will provide important information about who has produced and funded material at all times, and not just in the run up to an election. It will be important for the legislation to give a clear definition of what is meant by ‘political material’, so that anyone publishing material that could be covered by this proposal can understand and follow the new rules.