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Anonymous Facebook ads ask people to kill Theresa May’s Brexit plan



Theresa May
Theresa May, the British
prime minister.


  • Politicians have uncovered evidence of a dark
    advertising campaign on Facebook, in which Brits were
    encouraged to lobby against Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit
  • The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee
    said £257,000 was spent on the adverts by an anonymous
    group called the Mainstream Network.
  • The committee wants Facebook to reveal who is behind
    the campaign after it released its new political ad
    transparency tools in the UK this week.

An influential group of politicians has uncovered evidence of a
dark advertising campaign on Facebook, in which users were
encouraged to lobby against Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit

In findings published on Saturday, the Digital, Culture, Media,
and Sport Committee said an anonymous organisation called
Mainstream Network spent £257,000 ($335,148) on ads that reached
up to 11 million people over a 10-month period.

The “sophisticated” campaign included a direct call to action for
users to email their MP asking them to “chuck Chequers,”
short-hand for May’s controversial Brexit negotiating position
agreed at her Chequers retreat in July.

Mainstream Network has no known named organisation, UK address,
or individual associated with it, the Digital, Culture, Media,
and Sport Committee said.

“Here we have an example of a clearly sophisticated organisation
spending lots of money on a political campaign, and we have
absolutely no idea who is behind it. The only people who know who
is paying for these adverts is Facebook,” said the committee’s
chairman Damian Collins.

It’s the kind of activity that could be made public with Facebook’s new political ad
transparency tools
, which were launched in the UK this week.
But they have come too late to capture the Mainstream Network
campaign, and a committee chairman said Facebook should release
details of who is behind the adverts independently.

In a statement, Facebook did not address whether it would
voluntarily release details about who is behind Mainstream

“On November 7, all advertisers will have new requirements before
they can place political ads in the UK, including Mainstream
Network. These advertisers will need to confirm their identity
and location through an authorisations process and accurately
represent the organization or person paying for the ad in a
disclaimer,” said Rob Leathern, director of product

“These steps must happen or the advertiser will be prevented from
running ads related to politics on Facebook. We know we can’t
prevent election interference alone and offering more ad
transparency allows journalists, researchers and other interested
parties to raise important questions.” 

Mainstream Network
Mainstream Network Facebook ad on the left, and the website on
the right.


The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee uncovered the
Mainstream Network with help from communications agency 89up.

Users were targeted with localised ads which clicked through to
the Mainstream Network website, 89up said, where they were
encouraged to submit a pre-written email to their local MP. The
email calls on the MP to “bin the Chequers Deal before it’s too

Screen Shot 2018 10 19 at 16.25.31
Mainstream Network


Collins and Paul Farrelly, another lawmaker on the committee,
were among many MPs whose constituents were targeted. Mainstream
Network also carried a number of pro-Brexit news stories on its
site, which have had more than 140,000 social media engagements,
according to 89up.

The company also said Mainstream Network could be in breach of
the EU’s new GDPR privacy laws. This is because whenever a user
emails their MP from the site, Mainstream’s own address is
copied, meaning that the user’s email address could potentially
be being stored by the organisation.

Collins said: “Facebook has recently announced a set of changes
to increase transparency around political advertising on its
platform. This example offers Facebook an opportunity to show it
is committed to making that change happen — if you are targeted
with a message or asked to do lobby your MP, you should know
exactly who is behind the organisation asking you to do it.”

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