How might the Conservatives be giving their ads an unfair advantage?

For balance, here's a few thoughts on how the Conservatives might have genuinely pushed out the Labour ads.

Look at the engagement numbers just above the comments in this picture.

2.5k reactions. 987 shares. 1k comments.

That's huge engagement. And almost certainly not all from people in one location. The Conservatives will have been running this ad across the country.

High engagement, wherever it comes from, is proof to Facebook that an ad has clout. All the Conservatives then need to do is run ads across the country, turn off the weaker ads, and keep directing the 'good' ads to new audiences.

There's a key technical point here. They're not just duplicating the ad and running it to a new audience, because that would wipe the engagement every time.

They're running the same ad, with the same ID number, but to a new audience. This keeps the engagement from before, and gives it an unfair advantage with the new audience.

We do this all the time, and it's called a 'dark post' which is probably where the Observer headline came from. There's nothing negative about the practice of this; an ad still has to stand on its own two legs with the new audience (though the social proof from high engagement counts can help), and one could argue that it's earned its prominence by earning engagement from others around the country. It's ironically democratic, in a way.

The only negative use of dark posts might be the incentives behind running an ad in the first place. I'll leave that to others to weigh up in this case.

The Conservatives have been exploiting Facebook for years.

Ultimately, the article makes a fair point that we all need to understand:

“It just seems astonishing that these are dark ads, that no one officially sees, and they can just put whatever they want in them. There’s no regulation: it’s all hidden. And it just seems like it’s not really democracy, if all this is going on in total darkness.”

This, for me, is the fascinating aspect of political advertising, and why there probably needs to be regulation.

Because this has happened before. Not just with Trump, or Brexit. It happened in the 2015 election too.

My mum, a conservative voter living in a conservative heartland, was on Facebook and I caught a glance of her feed. A conservative ad was right at the top. I asked to check in to her feed again throughout the campaign and it kept happening.

Meanwhile, Twitter was aflame with #millifandom and missing the real influential activity happening out of sight.

I heard the tories spent over £100k on Facebook ads, while the others spent something in the region of £5-10k.

Was it Facebook wot won it in 2015? Will it happen again?

Is the election spending scandal related to the Conservative's 2015 Facebook campaign?

Journalists could even ask more about what happened in 2015. My first thought on the recent scandal that advertising expenses weren't properly accounted for in 2015 is that this was all due to Facebook advertising.

The way it works it, you have one business ad account - a parent account, if you will - and this can advertise against any other page you connect it to.

This account is typically tied to one payment method. While you can break it out into other payment methods, it sounds to me an awful lot like they ran Facebook campaigns across the country on behalf of different local MP's pages, from one account, maybe on one card (or just screwed up every now and again through human error).

Perhaps the Tories had an illegitimate win through misspending on advertising against older rules.

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