Meet the ‘micro-Pacs’ buying political ads on Facebook

From BBC Trending: Alongside the main parties, small groups and even individuals are jockeying for political influence by buying micro-targeted ads on Facebook.

They are not-for-profit organisations, small informal groups and – in at least one case – a student with a personal mission and a bit of spare cash. They’re bypassing the political parties and buying political advertisements directly on Facebook.

BBC Trending and Newsnight have been asking people to send in examples of the political ads they have been seeing on the UK’s biggest social network. We’ve seen plenty of advertising put out by the major parties, but also ones promoting about a dozen politically themed pages unaffiliated with any official campaigns. It’s likely there are many more of what we at BBC Trending are calling “micro-Pacs” (in the US, independent campaign groups are called “political action committees”) than our survey has picked up.

Chris Henderson runs one of these groups. He’s clearly left-leaning, though some of the groups also come from the right of politics. Henderson’s Facebook page is called “Stop the Tories 2017“. Henderson is a postgraduate psychology student and a former local communications officer for the Green Party, but says that his current initiative is not endorsed by or co-ordinated with the official Green campaign.

Henderson says he’s opposed to a number of Tory policies – singling out work capability assessments that were introduced as part of welfare reforms – and that he would like Conservative candidates to be defeated by opponents from the broad left, including Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists.

“I think that the landscape that we have in this election is different than anything that’s been in the playbook before,” he says. “The only way the Tories are going to be removed from office is through some sort of progressive alliance.”

Henderson said he has spent around £1,800 on Facebook ads, initially using the site’s tools to target people interested in left-wing causes, but later targeting concentrating on 18-25 year olds in marginal constituencies. He says he crowdfunded the money from around 50 people and also used personal funds.

His ads are very different from traditional party campaign material. One campaign featured a disability campaigner who was quoted saying: “If you vote Conservative on June 8th, you are voting to kill people like me.”

A post by Stop the Tories 2017 showing the slogan "you are voting to kill people like me"Image copyrightSTOP THE TORIES/FACEBOOK

“Non-party publishers have much greater freedom to tell it like it is without the constraints of working within a political party,” Henderson says. “Everybody gets to decide their own framing on social media.”

Despite the relatively modest outlay, Henderson says his posts, boosted by the paid ads, have racked up around 8 million Facebook impressions.

[Read full article on BBC News…]