The U.K.’s Facebook-fueled sprint to election day

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With help from Mark Scott Facebook’s role in looming U.K. election: POLITICO unpacks political ad spending on Facebook in the lead-up to the upcoming British election, raising parallels to U.S. concerns around campaign financing, social media ads and voter data.
— Disinformation goes domestic: As we head into 2020, disinformation campaigns are expected to emerge more in our own backyard than from abroad, presenting Silicon Valley with a fresh set of challenges distinct from what it grappled with in 2016.
— USTR’s next steps on France’s DST: U.S. trade officials today will unveil their findings from an investigation into France’s controversial digital services tax — as well as possible actions against the U.S. ally.
AND JUST LIKE THAT, IT’S DECEMBER. WELCOME BACK TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. Highlights of my weekend included seeing four friends get engaged, watching my dog slurp dinner off the Thanksgiving table (who’s a good boy?), and staying in my pajamas all day Sunday with my family. What were yours?
Got a news tip? Write Alex at [email protected] or @ Ali_Lev . An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected] . Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
Tech of the Town THE U.K.’S SPRAWLING DIGITAL CAMPAIGN WORRIES — The marathon 2020 presidential race runs concurrently with election seasons in other countries, including the U.K., where voters have less than two weeks before they cast their ballots for either the ruling Conservative Party or a slew of challengers. And just like here in the U.S., political parties and third-party groups have turned to Facebook to get their messages in front of would-be supporters through ads on social media. POLITICO’s Mark Scott walks you through all you need to know here — six charts pulled together by POLITICO and NYU researchers that offer the most comprehensive review to date on Facebook ad spending around the British election.
— U.K. vs. U.S. elections: Same tactics, different level of spending: The first thing to note is that British political groups’ spending on Facebook is significantly smaller than that of candidates in the U.S. That is, in part, because of their mere six-week (yes, only six weeks!) election window. The U.K.’s campaign finance rules also mean that each party is capped at roughly $21 million for the whole election. But, more importantly, roughly two-thirds of current Facebook political ad spend in the U.K. has come from third-party groups — some of which are closely affiliated to the mainstream parties. Just like in the U.S., that has raised questions about whether such groups are complying with the country’s campaign finance rules, and how officials can keep tabs on such partisan messaging when Facebook is the only entity that has complete access to who’s buying what.
— And you thought the U.S. was bad: British regulators for years have been calling to overhaul the country’s electoral system for the digital age, a prospect that includes potential restrictions on how people’s data can be used and greater transparency online. Yet despite repeated warnings, including around possible foreign interference, London has ignored these demands , leaving the country’s Dec. 12 nationwide vote highly susceptible to both domestic and international hijinks.
WHY THE WAR ON DISINFORMATION IS ONLY GETTING TOUGHER — Despite big tech companies’ aggressive steps to fight trolls, bots and online fakery, “it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election,” POLITICO’s tech team reports in a new feature. “Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016.” As bad actors get even smarter, disinformation is becoming increasingly homegrown, ethical lines are growing blurrier, and free speech debates are proving more and more complex. “Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them.” Read our roundup on some of the biggest challenges Silicon Valley must contend with as it tries to counter the problem heading into 2020.
— And keep an eye out: Experts have warned that 2020 disinformation campaigns — both homegrown and from abroad — are likely to ramp up as the Democratic field whittles down and we move closer to having a nominee. With the final presidential debate of the year ( hosted by POLITICO and PBS NewsHour ) less than three weeks away, we’re monitoring the issue closely.
ALL EYES ON USTR — The tech industry will finally get some guidance today on how U.S. trade officials plan to address France’s new digital services tax, which the sector and President Donald Trump have argued will disproportionately penalize American tech companies. The Office of the United States Trade Representative is expected to issue a report today on its Section 301 investigation into ...