Ads: Facebook is still full of election ads even though it’s already illegal at this point | technology


PP metrics for Santa Cruz [de Tenerife] To improve our city’s carnival “, says an advertisement posted with a video on Instagram or Facebook by the Popular Party of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and seen by between 80,000 and 90,000 canaries. “Thanks to President Zimo Puig’s tax reform this year, middle and lower incomes will pay lower wages” says another of the Valencian socialists, who have seen between 45,000 and 50,000 Valencians, most of them women over 65. Both cost less than 100 euros.

There are dozens of such ads from political parties across Spain, according to the Meta ad library, which includes ads on Instagram and Facebook. There’s just one problem: It’s illegal. “It is forbidden to rent ads during the election campaign,” says Rafael Rubio, professor of constitutional law at Complutense University. During this period, parties cannot employ any kind of electoral propaganda, not even on the networks. Nor can those departments in which campaigns are held.

The Central Electoral Council, meeting yesterday, Wednesday, assessed a complaint against the People’s Party of Extremadura for posting active ads on Facebook. The agency says it “violates” election law and “orders the withdrawal of such advertisements”. The council added in its decision, “Failure to request the voter’s vote explicitly is not a reason not to consider electoral propaganda as any activity that seeks, directly or indirectly, to attract votes.” The electoral supervisor does not begin the sanctioning process but asks the formation not to employ more propaganda until the election campaign in May.

Days before this decision, El Pais spoke with Antonio Galán, director of PP in Extremadura, which, with more than 1000 euros, was one of the most invested formations these days on Facebook and Instagram for María Guardiola, a regional candidate: “Well done, this It’s the only thing I can say,” he said. “The Regional Electoral Council is aware of this,” Galan added.

🩺 It’s time to focus on turning our #healthcare 180 degrees to give it back to the people of Extremadura. We have in…

Posted by Partido Popular Extremadura on Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Meta obliges parties and all organizations making socio-political advertisements to leave contact information. EL PAÍS 17 summoned a number of political parties. Often there was an answering machine. But four answered. No one knew how to provide a definitive answer as to why it was still being advertised in this period. “What we promoted on Facebook was a municipal group post, not election propaganda,” says Miguel Angel López, Ciudadanos’ candidate for the Arganda del Rey City Council (Madrid). “No one is asking for a vote. We are evaluating our work and what we want for Arganda. It is a declaration of principles. We passed this declaration to the party and they told us it was right.” Begoña Villacís, the candidate for mayor of Madrid, has had active ads since April 25th.

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Active advertisement for the candidate of the Madrid City Council in Ciudadanos, Begoña Villacís, on Facebook or Instagram.
Active advertisement for the candidate of the Madrid City Council in Ciudadanos, Begoña Villacís, on Facebook or Instagram.

This period without electoral campaigning began on April 4, when regional and municipal elections were officially called for May 28. Until that day, when the law did not prevent it, parties had spent more than 300,000 euros on their candidates since mid-January, according to meta data always. In the last three months, PSOE was the party that spent the most and posted more than 2,000 advertisements for nearly €100,000. Madrid’s PSOE spent over €14,000 to present the campaign “He’s not Wolverine, he’s Lobato… and he comes to fight for Madrid!” Who is your candidate for society. For its part, Podemos published 653 clips that cost it nearly 50,000 euros: some of the most expensive were the videos of presenting its regional candidates to hundreds of thousands of voters in Madrid, Aragon, Extremadura or Valencia. Between March 29 and April 1, the account of the popular group of the Madrid City Council has allocated more than 15,000 euros so that more than a million Madrid residents, especially those under the age of 34, can watch some videos of Mayor Almeida with this text: “Live Moment. Find out how we make history.” The list is not exhaustive because there are candidates who only use their names, without specifying which party they are running for.

These large expenditures, until the beginning of April, prove that the parties know that the election law limits advertising from that date until the campaign. But the message did not reach all of Spain, because some local and regional groups continued their campaigns after the legal deadline.

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The election law was amended in 2011 to provide for extraordinary advertising expenditures in the pre-election period. But in recent years it has been noticed that online advertising is more effective and cheaper than other media. The law provides for penalties between 300 and 3000 euros, but the worst penalty must be indicated by the media by the competitor. The CEC asks someone to file a complaint to act. This method is used for the parties to observe each other.

Save money

There are examples of this practice in every game. Funding for these advertisements depends in some cases on local groups, each of which makes it easier to choose the path they prefer. Quantities at this time are very secretive compared to previous weeks. This is in keeping with the spirit of the electoral reform that banned advertising in this period: “The goal of reforming this law was to save money because in these 40 days no campaign of any kind has been carried out,” says Rubio. What was not decided in 2011 was how easy it would be to reach thousands of citizens in the municipality through a social network.

An active advertisement on Facebook or Instagram for a PSOE candidate for mayor of El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz).
An active advertisement on Facebook or Instagram for a PSOE candidate for mayor of El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz).

Party advice is a frequent excuse in calls to local party headquarters. They gave us recommendations on a legal level: don’t put the campaign slogan, put the heart if you like. The ones we set before 4 have one character and the rest another, up to the campaign. I can’t say why,” says Ángel González, PSOE spokesperson in El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz).

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In the municipality of Bormujos in Sevillian, they give similar reasons: “We do our daily activities, what we can’t do is lock ourselves up at home,” says Luis Paniagua, from the local PP. “We do what others do. Go to the neighborhoods, put forward our proposals, what we don’t do is ask for votes or open businesses,” he adds.

Despite these reservations, Article 53 of the Elections Law leaves few doubts about the interpretation and even explicitly includes “other digital media”: “From the time the elections are called until the legal start of the campaign, election advertising or propaganda through posters is prohibited.” or commercial supports or additions in the press, radio, or other digital media, such actions cannot be justified by the exercise of the normal activities of the parties, coalitions, or federations recognized in the preceding section.”

Raul Magallon, a professor at the University of Carlos III, shared a report on government disinformation, published in September 2022, and where some recommendations are given to mitigate this problem: “You cannot count on the good intentions of every social network,” says Magallon. There is a common pattern that all platforms that allow election advertising must have an archive of political ads where data can be checked.”

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