A Facebook advert posted by the council was removed for breaching a key transparency rule.
The seemingly innocuous ad, which reminded people to register to vote ahead of the most recent local elections, was taken down because the authority failed to declare who paid for it.
Facebook began publishing who places – and pays for – adverts promoting political or social issues in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year.
Since October, anyone placing a political advert has had to declare who paid for it, with a Post and JPIMedia investigation identifying around 300 ads on the pages of local politicians and councils which were run without these disclaimers.
There is no suggestion of any deliberate attempts to deceive constituents, and all ads were found and removed by Facebook, which said in relation to Preston Council’s ad: “This ad ran without a disclaimer. After the ad started running, we determined that the ad was about social issues, elections or politics and required the label. The ad was taken down.”
The council took out its advert for 10 days in March. Alongside a 15-second video, it said: “Got 5? Register to vote now for the 2019 #LocalElections,” which were held in May. “All you need is 5 minutes and your National Insurance Number,” it added, next to a link to the government’s ‘register to vote’ website.
It cost less than £100 and had a reach of between 10,000 and 50,000 users. More women aged 18-24 saw it than any other demographic.
The authority today said “it was paid for from the council’s marketing budget”.
Hundreds of individual MPs, elected officials, and local authorities have placed nearly half a million pounds’ of promotions on Facebook since October.
Anti-Brexit campaigner Mike Galsworth paid £476 to promote the ‘Preston for Europe’ group in an ad that said: “We are Preston residents fighting against Brexit. ‘LIKE’ our page to
Olga Gomez-Cash from the group said: “We wanted to reach out and find people like us who were worried about Brexit so they did not feel alone. It was to get a community together to create a grassroots movement.”
Adrian Phillips, chief executive and returning officer at Preston Council, said: “We are often asked to support national campaigns, such as this one from the Electoral Commission in encouraging as many people as possible to register to vote.
“Facebook advertising is one of a number of ways we reach and engage with our residents and we believe the money spent was reasonable for the reach the advert received.
“As a local authority, it is our duty to promote democracy and we are passionate about working constructively with the Electoral Commission to ensure everyone has the opportunity to vote in relevant UK elections.”