Saturday, June 30, 2018

Britain's Election Regulator Makes New Demands of Digital Campaigns

The Internet has lost its democratic luster. Lauded as a force for change during the Arab Spring in 2010, its reputation has since been sunk by a wave of populism in the West. In a Report, Britain's Election Watchdog warned that the rise of Digital Tools in Political Campaigning had created an Atmosphere of Mistrust, and called upon the Government and Social Media Companies to Fix It.

In its Report, the Electoral Commission called for the First Time for All Social media Companies that runs Election Advertising in Britain to create an Open Databases of Election Advertising. Such Databases, would have a Big Impact if widely adapted, helping to catch any Messaging that was not Formerly Declared but Co-Ordinated.

The Commission repeated its recommendation that Digital Campaign Material should included an Imprint which identifies the Organization behind it, which would help the Commission to Track Campaign Activities across the Web and Enforce Spending Rules.

It also Advocated Closing a Loophole, that Money spent on Hiring Staff does not count towards a Campaign's Spending Limits. Since Posting on Social Media is Free, and Staffing Costs need not be Declared, this offers Campaigns a Channel through which to send Unlimited Messages to Voters.

In addition, the Commission requested the Power to Levy Larger Fines, saying that the current Cap of $26,000 per Offence risked becoming a mere Cost of doing Business for Rule Breaking Campaigns, particularly in Referendums, in which Campaigners may worry less about their Future Reputations.

Some reactions to the Report were overblown. The Commission did not warn that Democracy was under Threat from the Internet. It praised the Positives of Online Campaigning, stating that New ways of reaching voters are Good for Everyone. But it did say that Changes to digital Campaign Rules were needed to Restore Public Confidence in the Democratic process.

It is up to the Government to make these Changes. Politicians have little incentive to fiddle with the system that brought them to Power. But Public disquiet over the growing number of allegations of Foul Play in the Brexit Referendum may provide some fuel. Russian Trolls may not have swung the Results, but anger over the suggestion that they tried could yet be enough to force Change on a Bad System.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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