EIGHTEEN months ago, a Facebook page was set up to campaign for the Union. Young Unionists is one of many such pages established by activists to influence political debate. But unlike most others, it has also paid for around 100 adverts on the platform in recent months.
As many as 107 separate payments to Facebook are listed by the little-known group in the run-up to this year’s Scottish Parliament election, costing it £19,925. That’s all but £72 of its entire donations take, according to accounts filed with the Electoral Commission.
The funding was registered with the elections watchdog as the “total value of funds not reported individually”, and so it is not possible to track its exact origin.
There is no evidence that Young Unionists broke any rules. What we can see is that it’s been used circulate a string of campaign claims and tactical voting calls that have been seen by hundreds and thousands of user accounts and targeted at millions more.
Based just off Edinburgh’s Princes Street, the group is registered at Rose Street Lane South, giving it a prime city centre location. But the address is also used by a company that sells virtual office rental to many other organisations.
The accounts show the group was set up by Max Young, whose credits include articles for the right-of-centre ThinkScotland website set up by care home magnate Robert Kilgour. Other writers include politicians George Galloway, Michelle Ballantyne and Brian Monteith.
Prior to registering his current campaign – just weeks before the May vote – Young was the “responsible person” for Capitalist Worker, another non-party drive which launched on Facebook in late 2019 and had almost 30 of its paid-for adverts taken down by the host firm for violating its advertising policies by failing to declare who was behind them.
Its page went up as then-Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn prepared for what would be a disastrous December General Election result for his party, and one that would see him resign. Capitalist Worker hasn’t run an ad since then and hasn’t made a single post on the network since April 2020.
Young Unionists set up its page two months later, using an image of Aberdeen’s Wallace statue overlaid across Edinburgh Castle as its profile image and telling followers: “This will provide a place for young people living in Scotland to view and share content which will help us put forward a strong Unionist message going into the 2021 Scottish Parliament Election.
“For too long, the SNP have mismanaged Scotland’s public services and finances and created huge division throughout Scotland. The SNP have taken the youth vote for granted, while simultaneously closing opportunities for young Scots and not fulfilling their manifesto promises.
“This group aims to bring a united opposition against the SNP’s harmful policies and protect Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.”
Despite marketing itself as a live campaign, there’s been no new activity on the page since the start of June and it’s been liked by fewer than 1200 people. Its website, initially registered in October last year, is low on information and activity. Its one link is to a donations page seeking help to “promote our story on social media” and to “bring young Unionists together for events”.
But while the focus is ostensibly on the youth vote, many of the bought ads have been seen predominately by older viewers. In one example, a 13-second clip focusing on child poverty garnered between 60,000 and 70,000 impressions, but just 2% of these were by women in the 18-24 age group. Only 4% of views were by men in this category. In contrast, the highest level of views was by men aged 45-54.
Another ad used the image of a pitchfork and a farm animal in yellow and black, stating: “Nationalism is on the rise in Europe. Choose reason. Don’t be a sheep for the Scottish nationalists.”
Yet another showed a pipe-smoking, crown-wearing, Union Jack emblazoned rocket jettisoning a Saltire-stamped booster and stating: “Don’t break from the ship. Vote for the Union. We’re a family for God’s sake.”
Young did not respond to an approach by The National.
At the weekend, the Sunday National detailed a new “dark money” donations row centred around the Unionist campaign Scotland Matters.
The money came from the London- registered “Centre for Economic Educ- ation and Training”. It’s not known who is behind that and where the £46,000 funds have come from. On Monday, it emerged the donation may be in breach of electoral rules which require registration from third-party political campaigners spending more than £25,000 in a calendar year.
The Electoral Commission told The Guardian it will “be seeking to obtain information from the Centre for Economic Education and Training to clarify its status and whether it is subject to any political finance requirements”. Scotland Matters said it had fulfilled its obligations.
Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy
Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.
As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.
At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.
When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.
That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.
The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.
How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.
Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.
Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.
It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.
Meta Updates Policy on Cryptocurrency Ads, Opening the Door to More Crypto Promotions in its Apps
With cryptocurrencies gaining momentum, in line with the broader Web 3.0 push, Meta has today announced an update to its ad policies around cryptocurrencies, which will open the door to more crypto advertisers on its platforms.
As per Meta:
“Starting today, we’re updating our eligibility criteria for running ads about cryptocurrency on our platform by expanding the number of regulatory licenses we accept from three to 27. We are also making the list of eligible licenses publicly available on our policy page.”
Essentially, in order to run any crypto ads in Meta’s apps, that currency needs to adhere to regional licensing provisions, which vary by nation. With crypto becoming more accepted, Meta’s now looking to enable more crypto companies to publish ads on its platform, which will provide expanded opportunity for recognized crypto providers to promote their products, while also enabling Meta to make more money from crypto ads.
“Previously, advertisers could submit an application and include information such as any licenses they obtained, whether they are traded on a public stock exchange, and other relevant public background on their business. However, over the years the cryptocurrency landscape has matured and stabilized and experienced an increase in government regulation, which has helped to set clearer responsibilities and expectations for the industry. Going forward, we will be moving away from using a variety of signals to confirm eligibility and instead requiring one of these 27 licenses.”
Is that a good move? Well, as Meta notes, the crypto marketplace is maturing, and there’s now much wider recognition of cryptocurrencies as a legitimate form of payment. But they’re also not supported by most local financial regulators, which reduced transaction protection and oversight, which also brings a level of risk in such process.
But then again, all crypto providers are required to clearly outline any such risks, and most also highlight the ongoing market volatility in the space. This expanded level of overall transparency means that most people who are investing in crypto have at least some awareness of these elements, which likely does diminish the risk factor in such promotions within Meta’s apps.
But as crypto adoption continues to expand, more of these risks will become apparent, and while much of the crypto community is built on good faith, and a sense of community around building something new, there are questions as to how much that can hold at scale, and what that will then mean for evolving scams and criminal activity, especially as more vulnerable investors are brought into the mix.
Broader promotional capacity through Meta’s apps will certainly help to boost exposure in this respect – though again, the relative risk factors are lessened by expanded regulatory oversight outside of the company.
You can read more about Meta’s expanded crypto ad regulations here.
Meta Outlines Evolving Safety Measures in Messaging as it Seeks to Allay Fears Around the Expansion of E2E Encryption
Amid rising concern about Meta’s move to roll out end-to-end encryption by default to all of its messaging apps, Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis has today sought to provide a level of reassurance that Meta is indeed aware of the risks and dangers that such protection can pose, and that it is building safeguards into its processes to protect against potential misuse.
Though the measures outlined don’t exactly address all the issues raised by analysts and safety groups around the world.
As a quick recap, back in 2019, Facebook announced its plan to merge the messaging functionalities of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which would then provide users with a universal inbox, with all of your message threads from each app accessible on either platform.
The idea is that this will simplify cross-connection, while also opening the door to more opportunities for brands to connect with users in the messaging tool of their choice – but it also, inherently, means that the data protection method for its messaging tools must rise to the level of WhatsApp, its most secure messaging platform, which already includes E2E encryption as the default.
Various child safety experts raised the alarm, and several months after Facebook’s initial announcement, representatives from the UK, US and Australian Governments sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that the company abandon its integration plan.
Meta has pushed ahead, despite specific concerns that the expansion of encryption will see its messaging tools used by child trafficking and exploitation groups, and now, as it closes in on the next stage, Meta’s working to counter such claims, with Davis outlining six key elements which she believes will ensure safety within this push.
Davis has explained the various measures that Meta has added on this front, including:
- Detection tools to stop adults from repeatedly setting up new profiles in an attempt to connect minors that they don’t know
- Safety notices in Messenger, which provide tips on spotting suspicious behavior
- The capacity to filter messages with selected keywords on Instagram
- More filtering options in chat requests to help avoid unwanted contact
- Improved education prompts to help detect spammers and scammers in messages
- New processes to make it easier to report potential harm, including an option to select “involves a child”, which will then prioritize the report for review and action
Which are all good, all important steps in detection, while Davis also notes that its reporting process “decrypts portions of the conversation that were previously encrypted and unavailable to us so that we can take immediate action if violations are detected”.
That’ll no doubt raise an eyebrow or two among WhatsApp users – but the problem here is that, overall, the broader concern is that such protections will facilitate usage by criminal groups, and the reliance on self-reporting in this respect is not going to have any impact on these networks operating, at scale, under a more protected messaging framework within Meta’s app eco-system.
Governments have called for ‘backdoor access’ to break Meta’s encryption for investigations into such activity, which Meta says is both not possible and will not be built into its future framework. The elements outlined by Davis do little to address this specific need, and without the capacity to better detect such, it’s hard to see any of the groups opposed to Meta’s expanded encryption changing their stance, and accepting that the merging of all of the platform’s DM options will not also see a rise in criminal activity organized via the same apps.
Of course, the counterargument could be that encryption is already available on WhatsApp, and that criminal activity of this type can already be undertaken within WhatsApp alone. But with a combined user count of 3.58 billion people per month across its family of apps, that’s a significantly broader interconnection of people than WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users, which, arguably, could open the door to far more potential harm and danger in this respect.
Really, there’s no right answer here. Privacy advocates will argue that encryption should be the standard, and that more people are actually more protected, on balance, by enhanced security measures. But there is also an undeniable risk in shielding even more criminal groups from detection.
Either way, right now, Meta seems determined to push ahead with the plan, which will weld all of its messaging tools together, and also make it more difficult to break-up its network, if any antitrust decisions don’t go Meta’s way, and it’s potentially pressed to sell-off Instagram or WhatsApp as a result.
But expect more debate to be had, in more countries, as Meta continues to justify its decision, and regulatory and law enforcement groups seek more options to help maintain a level of accessibility for criminal investigations and detection.
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