“88 per cent of Tory ads are deemed misleading. 0 per cent of Labour’s ads are”
That was the claim from Labour frontbencher Richard Burgon.
He’s not alone. The Labour MP for Denton and Reddish, Andrew Gwynne, posted a link to the same BBC article on his Facebook page, with the caption:
“Official: 88 per cent of official Tory online ads found to be lies. 100 per cent of Labour online ads found to be truthful.”
Similar claims by actor David Walliams and Guardian columnist Owen Jones have been shared tens of thousands of times on Twitter.
But the report they’re referring to has since been updated. Its authors now say that some 7 per cent of Labour adverts analysed in their sample promoted questionable claims.
And we, along with other fact-checking organisations, have found a number of misleading claims over the campaign that made their way into Labour’s election ads.
The figures are from First Draft News, a “non-profit that supports journalists, academics and technologists working to address challenges relating to trust and truth in the digital age”.
The researchers say 88 per cent of Conservative Facebook ads in the first four days of December contained or linked to claims that have been challenged by the fact-checking organisation Full Fact.
First Draft initially reported that they hadn’t found any misleading claims in Labour ads over the same period.
The new information
But a few days later, First Draft issued a clarification. They discovered that the data they collected from Facebook was missing some key information about Labour, apparently due to a “bug” in the platform’s ad library.
Further analysis found that seven per cent of Labour ads published between 1 and 4 December “linked to webpages containing claims deemed inaccurate or needing more context by Full Fact”.
In the update, they also noted that they had found “six versions of two ads from Labour which promoted misleading claims, all published on December 10”, outside their initial sample period.
First Draft told FactCheck: “We did not present any of our analysis as indicative of any party’s record over the course of the campaign and were transparent in our reporting about the time periods involved.”
They say they chose to study the first four days of December because “there had been a sharp rise in the volume of political advertisements published by the Conservative party on Facebook between 1-4 December. At the time, we deemed it worthy of investigation in light of Facebook’s decision not to fact-check political ads on its platform.”
Here’s First Draft’s graph of Conservative ad-buying over the election:
But the structure of Labour’s online campaign was very different. In the first four days of December, Labour only put out a hundred ads, compared to the Conservatives’ 6,000.
And as Full Fact found, though Labour put out fewer adverts overall, each one was more expensive on average, and so would have been seen by more people.
So there’s no reason to think the findings of the First Draft report can be extrapolated onto the whole campaign, or that the data from these four days allows us to make a fair comparison between the parties.
Full Fact has warned: “we’ve seen claims on social media misinterpreting First Draft’s article to suggest that Full Fact has found that ‘0 per cent’ of Labour ads in this election were misleading. That’s not true: Full Fact wouldn’t make such a statement, and Labour definitely has released ads that contain claims we’ve disputed.”
They explained: “we can’t say objectively how many false claims are contained in the thousands upon thousands of ads that have run over the course of the campaign. Despite our best efforts, we can’t fact check every single ad.”
Other organisations have found questionable Labour adverts
The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising, a “non-partisan” group “set up by practitioners in the [advertising] industry” carried out its own review of online adverts put out by political parties in the campaign. They found several examples of Labour party advertising “that appeared to transgress”.
Full Fact say “Labour’s online ad campaign has featured multiple instances of misleading or exaggerated claims”.
FactCheck also found a number of questionable claims from Labour over the course of the campaign. For example, the idea that the Conservatives would strike a deal with the US giving “£500m a week to big drugs companies”, or the claim that Labour’s manifesto was “fully-costed”.
High-profile social media users, including some Labour MPs, have claimed that a report found “0 per cent” of Labour party adverts to be misleading, compared to 88 per cent of those run by the Conservatives.
One MP even went so far as to say: “100 per cent of Labour online ads found to be truthful”.
But these claims are wrong. The report they’re referring to has been updated to reflect data that was missing. The authors now say some 7 per cent of Labour ads in their sample contained or linked to claims they consider misleading.
Organisations including FactCheck, Full Fact and the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising have found numerous examples of Labour adverts that promote misleading claims and figures.
And we should remember that this report only looked at a four-day period of the election when the Conservatives massively increased their ad-buying, against a modest showing by Labour. The report’s authors told FactCheck it was never designed to give a comprehensive account of the parties’ advertising over the whole campaign.