The advertising industry has incredibly high standards. Advertisements of all manner are policed, from online adverts to billboards, and those who wish to utilise these spaces to create awareness of their brand, generate interest or amplify their existing efforts, are held accountable. For example, you couldn’t make the unsubstantiated claim that ‘eating lots of chocolate cake will make you run faster’. However, this is not the case regarding political advertisements.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal may have been forgotten in recent months due to the bonkers circus that is the Brexit negotiations, but it certainly aroused an appetite for change in the UK. Although that betrayal of democracy was conducted online, even offline advertising has seen similar foul play – just think back to that big red bus in the lead-up to the EU referendum commissioned by a certain Boris Johnson.
Similar levels of deceit were found in the 2016 American election campaign. UK based fact-checking charity Full Fact found that President Trump ran over five million variations of the same adverts in his 2016 campaign.
The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising are attempting to buck this increasingly worrying trend that is threatening the very tenets of democracy. The ‘separate the real from the make believe’ campaign, created by agency AnalogFolk and produced by CRPA, is vying to bring stern regulation to the world of political advertising. By depicting politicians as fairy tale characters, they hope to emphasise that fictional claims have no place in political campaigning. The illustrations show Boris Johnson as a fire-breathing dragon, Theresa May as an evil queen and Jeremy Corbyn as Little Red Riding Hood.
They have devised a four-point plan to rid politics of the scourge of fake news and disinformation:
- All factual claims to be pre-cleared
- Give an existing body the power to regulate, or create one capable of doing so
- All paid-for ads should be shown on a single site
- Require all political ads to carry an identifying watermark
A new phenomenon that may halt any progress made in this field is ‘deepfake’ technology. Although relatively new, it has already made its first inroad into the political sphere as the Socialistische Partij Anders (Sp.a), a political party in Belgium, have demonstrated. They ran a ‘deepfake’ video depicting President Trump rallying support from the Belgium public to campaign to leave The Paris Agreement on climate change. This was done to show voters that concerns high up on their agenda were being directly opposed by climate change deniers, some of whom, like President Trump, hold one of the most powerful seats in office in the world.
Wikipedia define deepfake technology as “artificial intelligence based on human image synthesis technique… used to combine and superimpose existing images and videos”. So, while there may well be a concerted effort to raise the standards, as this relatively new technology becomes more popular, that task will prove ever harder. Essentially, this is fake news or disinformation on steroids.
In order to combat this growing problem and eradicate the political sphere of this threat for good, we must first define what is and isn’t permissible in the world of political advertising.