I’m busy at work at the moment, so just a quick update. The Lib Dem press office have confirmed that the anonymous attack advert I posted about earlier was placed by a “local Liberal Democrat” with their “own time and money”.
They say they don’t think this breaches any rules, which surprises me a lot.*
Google ads might be geeky, but this matters because it’s misleading. Until I asked no-one could have known the Lib Dems, local or not, were doing this. Indeed there’s a whole post at Labourlist attacking the BBC for spending taxpayers money on something they had nothing to do with. If I were the Beeb, I’d be a bit cheesed off about that. If I were Dawn Butler I’d be considering a complaint to the electoral commission.
Second, it matters because it could hurt people who use anonymity for something worthwhile. Anonymity is important on the internet for people who use it to say things that otherwise couldn’t be said, which is why if you’re an anonymous blogger I think you’ve a right to disguise your identity. I don’t think that defence applies if you’re buying anonymous ads to attack your opponents.
Finally it’s important because it’s dishonest. If a political party does a leaflet, a press release or a poster, the public have a right to know who is responsible. The same is true online. I’ve asked the Lib Dems to confirm who the local lib dem was, which they’ve politely refused to do (The email says “I’m not going to give out names and contact details of members of the party”). But we’ve a right to know who publishes leaflets and the same goes for stuff like this, surely? That’s the whole point of the Printed, Promoted and Published rules.
* All credit to the Mark Pack and the LD press office here, they were fast and helpful in responding to me. I believe Mark Pack when he says he’s had nothing to do with this, because everything I’ve seen from him suggests he’s very conscious of the dangers of this sort of behaviour.