A company run by Conservative Party election strategist Lynton Crosby has been funding multiple advertising campaigns supporting a hard Brexit – creating a false impression that there is a groundswell of support for it among the public, according to a national newspaper.
The Guardian has said influential Facebook ad campaigns that appear to suggest several separate grassroots movements want a “no deal” Brexit are in fact nothing of the sort.
Organisations calling themselves names like “Mainstream Network” and “Britain’s Future” share an administrator who works for Mr Crosby’s company, CTF Partners, and have spent around £1 million on adverts appealing for members of the public to pressurise their MPs into voting for a hard Brexit, the newspaper claimed.
Documents seen by the paper’s staff show that almost all the major pro-Brexit Facebook “grassroots” advertising campaigns in the UK share the same page admins or advertisers, whose ranks include employees of CTF Partners and the political director of Boris Johnson’s campaigns to be mayor of London, who has worked closely with Mr Crosby in the past, it is alleged.
Leaked documents also revealed how CTF Partners boasts of its ability to run fake online grassroots campaigns that encourage users to join an online community and then be “mobilised to communicate directly with key decision-makers”.
When one such campaign – “Mainstream Network” – was exposed last year for spending at least £250,000 to reach more than 10 million voters with adverts urging them to encourage their local MP to “chuck Chequers”, among other things, it was abruptly shut down.
Subsequently, similar adverts began appearing on a Facebook page named “Britain’s Future”. Last month it was exposed as the biggest single UK political advertiser on Facebook, spending £422,000 on adverts campaigning for a hard Brexit despite never declaring its financial backers.
But it seems documents seen by The Guardian show that those who could place adverts on both the “Mainstream Network” and “Britain’s Future” pages include several people with strong links to CTF Partners and Mr Crosby.
To run a political campaign, all Facebook requires is a publicly-named individual who is registered to a UK postal address or contact details for a public organisation. There is no true disclosure around a campaign’s financial backers and no UK law requiring financial transparency outside an election period.
The Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee has repeatedly demanded that Facebook reveal the identities of those who were funding “Mainstream Network” – but it seems no positive response has been made.
According to The Guardian‘s report, Mr Crosby has been repeatedly linked to a possible campaign for Boris Johnson to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party.
How do you feel about the possibility of a person linked to such unethical advertising practices being behind a campaign to elect the next political leader of the UK? If I were you, I’d be feeling a bit sick.
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