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These Are The Anti-Corbyn Adverts The Tories Are Paying To Promote On Facebook

It’s hard to track what is happening in the online campaign, but with the help of Who Targets Me, BuzzFeed News has gained unprecedented access to Conservative Facebook adverts – and details of who they’re targeting.

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The Conservatives are using Facebook to bombard key target seats with paid-for adverts attacking Jeremy Corbyn, according to data obtained by BuzzFeed News that reveals for the first time the full extent of the party's under-the-radar online campaign blitz.

Dozens of different variations of Tory ads, some of which have already been viewed by millions of people, have been spotted online. The vast majority feature starkly negative messages and focus on Corbyn's leadership style, his supposed inability to lead Brexit negotiations, and claims that he is a security risk who would put up taxes.

Voters in crucial constituencies such as Wirral West, Bath, and Twickenham have been targeted by the anti-Corbyn adverts, which enable national spending to be diverted to support what are essentially local campaigns without breaking electoral spending laws.

Seats the Conservatives hope to gain – including Walsall North, Hampstead and Kilburn, and Brentford and Isleworth – have been targeted by videos warning the UK faces a Brexit disaster if Corbyn is allowed to carry out negotiations.

Meanwhile, voters in York Central, Normanton, and Ynys Mons – all traditional Labour-leaning areas – have been shown adverts in their Facebook feeds emphasising Theresa May's leadership qualities.

Paid-for online advertising is remarkably difficult to track and it is difficult for journalists to monitor the reach of these adverts. Data provided to BuzzFeed News by users of the Who Targets Me service allows us for the first time to see a sample of who is being targeted by the Conservative campaign.

Their figures, combined with the view counts of some of the videos, suggest millions of people have already seen Tory Facebook adverts, and this could be about to increase. During the Brexit campaign the majority of online political advertising spending took place in the final few days before the polls opened, as people made up their minds on which way to vote.

Facebook ads that mention a local party candidate must be counted as part of strict local campaign spending limits, which can be as low as £12,000 per candidate per constituency.

By comparison, a political ad targeting a specific constituency that only mentions national issues can legally be counted as part of a party's national spending limit – which is currently set at around £19 million.

This allows political parties a near-unlimited ability to target specific voters in certain constituencies with paid-for attack advertising. It also lets parties avoid expenses scandals of the sort that plagued the aftermath of the 2015 election campaign, when the Conservatives were found to have wrongly counted the cost of bussing activists into local constituencies as a national expense.

With targeted Facebook advertising there is less need to physically move volunteers to an area in order to get the word out.

The data also reveals the constituencies where adverts are being promoted most heavily, enabling the Conservatives to legally avoid strict limits on local election campaign spending. Other key seats where the adverts have appeared include Lib Dem–Tory marginals such as Kingston and Surbiton, Oxford West and Abingdon, and Sutton and Cheam.

Although all parties are spending heavily on Facebook advertising during this election — with millions of pounds set to go on online advertising — the Conservatives are pioneers in the field and their messaging is more negative and personal than the adverts put out by rival parties.

The Conservatives are also advertising on Instagram and YouTube, although Facebook remains the main focus of their efforts due to its superior audience.

The UK has not traditionally had a culture of political advertising, thanks to a longstanding ban on political parties buying TV and radio space. This started to crumble during the 2015 election when the Conservatives realised the potential of spending millions on targeted online advertising, which remains unregulated.

These are some of the election adverts the Conservatives are paying to promote – and examples of who is receiving them.

The data is provided by members of Who Targets Me's self-selecting panel, with anonymised age, gender, and location data of a small number of people who have seen each advert listed below each of the examples.

This is a far-from-complete picture of who is being targeted by each advert, but it gives an insight into who is being reached by which Conservative adverts. Some patterns can be spotted, such as certain adverts seemingly targeted at Liberal Democrat-held seats and some messages being spotted by people in traditional Labour-voting, pro-Brexit constituencies.

1. This video, warning that Jeremy Corbyn could be in charge of Brexit negotiations that are scheduled to begin on 19 June, has been viewed 1.3 million times.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 47-year-old man in Walsall North (Labour seat, top Conservative target)
* 39-year-old man in Hampstead and Kilburn (Labour seat, top Conservative target)
* 25-year-old man in Brentford and Isleworth (Labour seat, top Conservative target)

2. This advert warns Corbyn could be put into power thanks to support from the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 21-year-old man in Nottingham South (safe Labour seat)
* 35-year-old man in Bolsover (safe Labour seat)

3. This advert emphasises Theresa May’s leadership – posts put out under her name tend to be more positive.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 23-year-old man in Normanton, Pontefract, and Castleford (Labour-held, Conservative target)
* 58-year-old man in Ynys Mon (Labour-held, Conservative target)
* 20-year-old woman in York Central (Labour-held, Conservative target)

4. This video attacking Corbyn for allegedly being weak on anti-terror legislation and the armed forces has been viewed more than 5 million times.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 20-year-old woman in Bethnal Green and Bow (safe Labour seat)
* 26-year-old man in Derby North (Labour target seat with the second-smallest Conservative majority in the country)
* 19-year-old man in Putney (safe Conservative seat)

5. This advert promises “high taxes and economic chaos” if Corbyn is elected prime minister.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 60-year-old woman in the Oxford West and Abingdon (Tory-held Lib Dem target seat)
* 31-year-old man in Middlesbrough (safe Labour seat)
* 26-year-old man in Derby North (Labour target seat with the second-smallest Conservative majority in the country)

6. This video plays on fears of Corbyn not backing the armed forces.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 43-year-old woman in Birkenhead (safe Labour seat)
* 28-year-old woman in Battersea (Conservative-held Labour target seat)
* 45-year-old man in Birmingham Erdington (Labour-held Conservative target seat)

7. This video is one of the few adverts making a positive pitch about the Conservatives’ non-Brexit policies.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 42-year-old man in Sutton and Cheam (Conservative-held top Lib Dem target)
* 25-year-old woman in Southampton Test (Labour-held top Conservative target)
* 35-year-old man in Gower (Conservative-held Labour target with the smallest majority in the UK)

8. This video attacks John McDonnell’s economics and has been viewed over 300,000 times.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 27-year-old man in Greenwich and Woolwich (safe Labour seat)
* 21-year-old man in North East Fife (SNP-held former Lib Dem seat)
* 34-year-old man in South Northamptonshire (safe Conservative seat)

9. This video consists of Theresa May’s speech in Downing Street when she announced the election.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 20-year-old woman in Bethnal Green and Bow (safe Labour seat)
* 38-year-old man in Wythenshawe and Sale East (safe Labour seat)
* 20-year-old person in Torridge and West Devon (safe Conservative seat)

10. This video warns voters that Brexit negotiations will start almost immediately after the election – and encourages voters to choose who they want to be in charge.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 31-year-old man in Kingston and Surbiton (Conservative-held top Lib Dem target)
* 44-year-old man in Torbay (Conservative-held top Lib Dem target)
* 49-year-old woman in Wirral South (Labour-held top Conservative target)

11. This advert warns of the threat Corbyn supposedly poses to Brexit negotiations.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 22-year-old woman in Leeds North West (Lib Dem-held Conservative target)

12. This advert talks up the chances of Corbyn being elected prime minister – presumably in an effort to ensure anti-Corbyn voters turn out.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 46-year-old man in York Central (Labour-held, Conservative target)
* 21-year-old man in Wolverhampton South West (Labour-held, top Conservative target)

13. This video consists of a clip from the BBC’s Daily Politics show, showing ex-Labour voters considering the Conservatives.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 28-year-old woman in Battersea (Conservative-held Labour target)
* 25-year-old woman in Hammersmith (Labour-held Conservative target)
* 21-year-old man in Bury St Edmunds (safe Conservative seat)

14. This advert attempts to rebrand Labour candidates as representing “Corbyn’s local team” – the inverse of May’s attempts to rebrand the Conservatives as “my team”.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 45-year-old man in Birmingham Erdington (Labour-held Conservative target seat)
* 24-year-old man in Sheffield Hallam (Lib Dem-held Labour target)

15. This advert – posted in the aftermath of the Manchester terror attack – warns that “Whoever wins this election will have to keep our country safe.”

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 20-year-old man in Oxford East (safe Labour seat)

16. This video advert attempts to portray Corbyn’s team as a coalition of chaos.

Who are some of the people targeted by this paid Facebook advert?

* 20-year-old man in Camborne and Redruth (Conservative-held Liberal Democrat target)
* 57-year-old man in Kingston and Surbiton (Conservative-held Liberal Democrat target)

These adverts were made available to BuzzFeed News thanks to a collaboration with Who Targets Me, an independent non-aligned project attempting to shed light on the world of paid political advertising on Facebook during the general election. Who Targets Me relies on thousands of volunteers who have installed a desktop browser plug-in to record what political parties are doing on Facebook. If you are willing to take part, add the Chrome browser plug-in or the Firefox browser plug-in. The project is entirely independent of BuzzFeed News.


Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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