Episode 111 – The last podcast before a summer break and you’ll be pleased to hear it’s filled with….Brexit and anti-Semitism in the Labour party! Hooray! Something a bit different for you! Sigh. On the plus side Tiernan (@tiernandouieb) also interviews Sam Jeffers (@wrklsshrd) from Who Targets Me (@whotargetsme) on the lack of transparency in online political advertising.
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Episode 111 – The last podcast before a summer break and you’ll be pleased to hear it’s filled with….Brexit and anti-Semitism in the Labour party! Hooray! Something a bit different for you! Sigh. On the plus side Tiernan (@tiernandouieb) also interviews Sam Jeffers (@wrklsshrd) from Who Targets Me (@whotargetsme) on the lack of transparency in online political advertising.
Links and sources of info from Sam Jeffers’ interview:
All the usual ParPolBro stuff:
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A NO DEAL
This is a public service announcement. A no deal Brexit could happen at any time. You must make sure you and your family are protected and can survive. If you hear this siren:
Then a No Deal Brexit has occurred. If you are indoors when you hear this, open your windows and doors, paint the union jack on the faces of all the members of your family and start shouting ‘Eng-ger-land’ and you will immediately establish yourself to surrounding Britons as one to trust come the purge. If you cheer with enough enthusiasm, this may exhaust you to the point of forgetting just how hungry you are, saving one of your stockpiled tin of curried baked beans for another day. As soon as you are able, make sure you adorn your home in tradition British items. An old china teaset of Charles and Diana’s wedding. A keep calm and carry on poster. Several jars of jam. A dubious looking racist doll. This should help stave off any visits from the Brexit police who will be looking for traitors to sacrifice in order to keep population down so the provisions will last another week.
If you are outdoors when the siren occurs, run immediately to your nearest public house where you should order a strong British ale and drink as quickly as possible before looking around the room claiming you are a legend. Make sure to refill as quickly as possible with another pint as while it makes you appear strong and Britishness like, there will soon be a shortage of all liquid and it is good to hydrate while you can before the drought. A good way to distract yourself from the lack of planes in the sky or abandoned lorries lining the roads, is to take out your new blue passport and look at it, imagining how, maybe in 50 years time, it will allow you to leave the country again for perhaps a holiday or weekend jaunt. Of course, they will also have to bring weekends back too.
Be careful. A no deal Brexit could happen at any time.
Hello and welcome to the Partly Political Broadcast, the podcast that puts the ha into P-halirment, the Lol in The House of Commlolmons, and the tee hee into Teeheeresea May. Ahem. This is episode 111, I’m Tiernan Douieb and this week as Brexit Secretary and Stan for Patrick Bateman Dominic Raab says, again, god it’s boring, that the UK will refuse to pay it’s Brexit bill of £39bn unless the EU fulfills its side of the bargain, I’m really wondering if I can avoid paying for all my drunken eBay purchases until eBay take responsibility for having their website online at 3am and allowing someone as highly irresponsible as me to have an account. They should’ve known no one would really want 100 Christmas themed rubber ducks. They should’ve known!
A good chunk of the last week of politics could’ve been replaced with a repeat as after the government voted for an amendment that ruined their own bill, in a move that is much like a parliamentary version of willingly stepping on a rake, we have now returned to a world where it’s the EU’s fault that the UK still haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. I hadn’t realized that our place in the EU was the child who needed constant monitoring and on leaving have found ourselves in a different supermarket isle wondering why none of the hands we grab are our mums. The Commons appears to be heading for a summer recess akin to a self-destructive version of Home Alone where no one tries to rob our things but instead the government just willingly throws all our belongings away and regularly fall into their own booby traps.
Yes, the Brexit white paper is now a muddied one as the government voted for an amendment making their own Irish backstop prospect illegal meaning that the EU won’t go for it and we’ll all have to start again. Then the next night they willingly voted against their own plan for a customs partnership plan, aided by 4 Labour MPs who still seem to think being in opposition means against their own party, I swear its less of a party and more of a cat herding contest, herded by other cats, and former Liberal Democrat leader and Poddington Pea Tim Farron being absent, so he can tell people elsewhere about how bad gay sex is, even though he still hasn’t tried it yet. Current Lib Dem leader and owner of the Old Curiosity Shop Vince Cable was also absent as apparently, he was discussing a new anti-Brexit centrist party, which, when you’re the leader of an anti-Brexit centrist party is just a little bit cutting. The Conservative whips also broke the parliamentary pairing system as Conservative MP and dodgy car salesman Brandon Lewis voted, despite his arrangement to pair with Lib Dem MP and that teacher you remember being nice but can’t remember her name or what she did Jo Swinson, who is on maternity leave and therefore can’t vote, so Brandon shouldn’t have voted either. But it seems Conservative Whip and identikit failure Julian Smith told Brandon to do it anyway, which is, to put it lightly, cheating. Still, why any of us should be remotely surprised that the Conservatives, a party now blaming the EU for the fact they’ve done nothing but pointless soundbites for two years, don’t want to uphold their part of shared responsibility.
While in Belfast, Prime Minister and only person whose photo negative is full of bright colours, Theresa May stated that the EU must evolve their Brexit position. Cruel wording when in the land of the DUP. She really should have prayed that everything would be fixed and then closed her eyes and crossed her fingers for ages. Though to be fair, there’s not much difference between the two stances. This pointless bravado and ill thought through finger pointing was carried on by Foreign Secretary and giant pencil Jeremy Hunt who has told the EU they shouldn’t expect the UK to blink first on Brexit, so they have to back down. But the EU obviously know that the UK government can’t possibly blink when it has it’s eyes so permanently closed. From their more tempered side of things, the EU have said the White Paper opened the way to constructive discussion, which is a lot like when I tell you that play you were in was ‘interesting’. Ultimately, we both know its shit but one of the characters wore a nice hat. Meanwhile the EU have prepared a 16-page document preparing for a no deal which is nice to say that someone’s done some prep work to do with Brexit. I believe just has ‘Don’t Panic’ written on the front and a coupon for discounts on a free beach towel. No deal means no transition period, and the UK being immediately cut off from the EU despite us having no plans at all to deal with it. Meanwhile at home, rather than do everything they can to stop that happening, Dominic Raab still insists a no deal would affect the EU more than us. Sure mate, we’ll be fine without food or medicine or most other goods or travel to Europe. Why not just make Bear Grylls the main contender to Theresa May and we’ll spend our days trying to squeeze water from cow turds and living the British Dream. Raab refused to deny claims that the government is planning to stockpile food in case of a no deal though that’s probably because he hadn’t thought of that till he was asked about it and no needs to call round Pret a Manger and buy in a ton of the only sandwich he eats or he wouldn’t make it through the first week.
Brexiteer MP and Hooded Claw Jacob Rees Mogg said in an interview that it could take up to 50 years to see whether Brexit has been an economic success or not, which I think in his head is in around 1910. Still at least if Brexit is somehow a success he’ll be dead and won’t be able to see it. Not that it matters much to him as the city firm Somerset Capital, that he co-founded has set up a second investment fund in Ireland in case of a hard Brexit so all I can hope is that they make him cross a sea based Irish border by himself in a dinghy, to get any dividends. Former foreign secretary and current donut Boris Johnson gave his resignation speech to a fairly empty Parliament and it was much less Geoffrey Howe, much more Geoffrey Whye. His main points were that it’s not too late to save Brexit, and I hope he means in one of those lifetime ISA accounts that no one can access for years. BoJo said May had been dithering over Brexit, before saying that her Chequers plan would leave the UK in a miserable limbo, but that is coming from a man who only bends backwards for himself. What if the Kingpin was also a raisin Nicholas Soames and Anna ‘Rebel is my ironic nickname’ Soubry have called for a government of national unity, which is sort of what Winston Churchill did with the War Ministry in world war 2. Though it doesn’t really seem the same sort of crisis when each party is just at war with themselves. And it’s pretty hard to join forces in tackling the hard right when most of them will likely be involved in the first place.
The government were also defeated in their bill for parliament to go on recess 5 days early, as it turns out just running away from responsibility isn’t a good look. There’s every chance they’d have somehow blamed it on their constituents for not fulfilling their side of the bargain. This means that they have to sit this week on Monday and Tuesday but presumably they’ll just watch a video and play outdoor games before all giving the speaker a shitty present their parents bought.
Meanwhile suspicious badger and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are caught up, yet again, in another row about anti-Semitism within the party as they rejected the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of Jew hate in place of their own. I mean sure, there’s nothing that instills confidence in voters who are concerned a party has members with anti-Semitic views than them rejecting the international code and deciding they know best based on their opinions that no one trusts. It’d be like the Conservatives scrapping the Human Rights Act but reassuring everyone by replacing it with the vague non-existent British Bill of Rights. Labour Dame and woman made entirely of bits discarded Ann Robinson Margaret Hodge told Corbyn that he was a fucking anti-Semite and a racist’ but on the plus side, at least she assumes he’s still sexually active at 69. The bits Labour don’t want to include largely revolve around criticism of Israel but they are quite broad, and the only other party to refuse to sign up to the IHRA definition is Fidesz, the party of populist and increasingly far right Hungarian leader Victor Orban, so for Labour to be aligned with them in any way is not a great look, especially for a party who for so long have campaigned for people not to be Hungary.
And lastly, US President and baboon arse Donald Trump has used his twitter to threaten doodle proof Iranian president Rouhani, saying they will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have suffered before. Judging by Trump’s recent exchange with fun size dictator Kim Jong Un, that means he’ll be having a summit with Rouhani very soon, giving them everything they want, not taking anything for the US in return and then getting angry weeks later when none of it has worked out. It feels very much like Donald Trump’s foreign policy is just to neg everyone he actually wants to bang. If that’s the case then London Mayor Sadiq Khan is due for a booty call any day now.
And during a question and answer session with factory workers in Newcastle, Theresa May was asked what she did to unwind and she said that she enjoys cooking and has over 150 cookbooks, which is impressive as in politics she only ever manages to get in a soup. She also said she enjoys naval based US crime series NCIS, which is not only a crap show but also makes me worry that she’ll only seriously investigate Brexit once everything has sunk.
Greetings ParPolBrods, thank you once again for tuning in and I hope as you listen to this that your ears aren’t sweating profusely. I didn’t know ears could sweat till this current heat wave yet we are and my lugholes are like veritable rock pools and I don’t even listen to that sort of music. Arf. I mean, I know its basically a British trait to complain about the weather when it’s cold and then get all pissed off when it’s hot but I think that’s because we don’t do either type of weather well. When it’s cold it’s a wet cold, right in your face and nothing works because we’re never prepared for it even though it’s happened every year since the dawn of time and then when it’s hot, it’s sort of armpit hot where each ray of sun appears to have been filtered through an old damp rag. And no one is prepared for it. No air con, Argos always sells out of fans and the only swimming pools are always full of child wee. Still it’s better than no weather right? Regardless of what Theresa May might say. But yes, mostly I hope you’re not too toasty while listening and hopefully you’ve found a way to escape all responsibility and are relaxing somewhere cool like the freezer aisle in your local supermarket. This is, as I mentioned last week, the lastest podcast for some weeks as it, and mostly me, takes a summer break. I used to be able to justify a break with the fact that summer was silly season but that’s now ruined by all of the news all year round being endless silly season. Maybe summer should now be referred to as finally a fucking breather season? So a short breather for me, which is needed and one for you, which hopefully you will enjoy and as I’ve mentioned before, if things go bonkers then I’ll try and fire out some bonus episodes if needed. But some things before you hear this show and then descend into Will Smith’s favourite part of the year. Firstly, the obvious ones that I always do, because you’ll have around 6 weeks to pop a review of the show up online. It’ll take up 5 minutes. You can do it on holiday by the pool once you’ve checked your children aren’t trying to push each other into the suction filter, or you can do it during your summer job when you have a customer you really don’t like or while you’re at a festival watching a band you’ve never heard of sing a cover of a song you used to like until they ruined it. No, you’re not meant to do that pitched. No, no one wanted Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy done as dubstep. Anyway, during those moments, why not head to Stitcher, iTunes, Podbean, Castbox or others and give this show a little 5 star rating with some nice words. Thanking you. Also you have 6 weeks or so to donate to the patreon.com/parpolbro or ko-fi.com/parpolbro maybe for all the shows you’ve enjoyed so far this year or even just so you can tell your kids that you can’t buy them ice cream as you’ve just given all your money to a bearded idiot instead.
Right now as well as the usual pleas, I’ve got a new one this week. I set up a survey last week for all youse listeners, and it’ll take just 5 minutes to answer and mainly, it’s with the aim that I can make this even better when it returns. So the link is in the podcast blurb for this episode and thank you to the 17 people that have already filled it in and I’m now aware I need to find a better program for recording the interviews over skype and that interviews should probably be shorter and that no matter how many times I explain why I won’t interview MPs, someone will always suggest I interview MPs. Hey look, if you really want me to, I will try, but it’ll be all party line yawns and question dodging and I generally prefer people who’ll actually explain stuff. But those were all useful answers so please click on the survey in the podcast blurb and I’ll tweet out and Facebook the link a few times too.
If you suffer withdrawal symptoms from my dulcet tones, ha, over the summer then you can find me on the Flixwatcher podcast where I talked all about the brilliant Irish independent film The Young Offenders and then forgot to watch Jason Reed’s film choice and so am generally unhelpful. Oops. I’m also on last week’s Comedy Cast and will be on an upcoming Postcards from the Past with Rachel Parris which was fun, so check all those things out. If any of you are at Green Man festival this year, the loveliest of all the festivals. I mean, it’s in a bloody valley, it’s so nice. They put matting on the grass so even if it rains, it’s not muddy. So smart. God they’re great. I’ll be on the comedy stage on the Friday at 7.30 doing a 30 min set of mostly politics and baby nonsense, probably. Come see me and say hello. The kids politics show that I’m doing with Tatton at Simple Politcis is at the Milton Keynes international festival at the Stables Speigeltent at 11.30am on July 29th, then the Artrix Bromsgrove on August 1st at 2pm, then at Norden Farm in Maidenhead on August 11th at 2pm as well I think. I mean I could google but where’s the fun in that? Why ruin the adventure? Then in the autumn we’re at the Egg in Bath & Hertford Theatre in September and more after that too. That show is suitable for all aged 7+ and unlike this podcast, it is entirely non-partisan, even, somehow, when we discuss Brexit. So do bring your little people along. And lastly, phew, I’m more busy than I thought, finally I’m doing some shows in Hong Kong in September which is crazy exciting. If you are a Hong Kong based listener, which I mean, you might be. This show gets around 2-300 listens a week from China and I can’t see exactly which bits so if you are in that bit, come see me host the excellent line up of Bec Hill, Howard Read and John Fothergill at the Punchline Comedy Club on September 6th, 7th and 8th.
Ok, so this last show of the summer I am speaking to Sam Jeffers at Who Targets Me all about online political advertising and it’s transparency, something that’s become all relevant due to Vote Leave’s overspending and all that, and there is also a wee look at Labour’s anti-Semitism issues again and Brexit again and oh god, this is endless isn’t it? How is this exactly the same stuff that was a problem last year? How do we reset everything over summer and start again? Why can’t Theresa May go on a walking holiday and come back having listened to decent podcasts instead of her husband and have some good ideas for once? Or I dunno, at least fall down a crevice. Fingers crossed for at least one of those outcomes, I’m not fussy. Anyway, here you go, for the last time this season, it’s this:
Who’d have thought a year ago when The Conservatives had no plan for Brexit and Labour were dealing with mass accusations of anti-Semitism that we’d be here, a whole year later having progressed and moved on to….well, exactly the same place we were like the world’s most boring Groundhog Day remake where even the Groundhog doesn’t want to star in it and they have to get a very fat otter instead. The former, well, we’ll deal with that later, like with every single goddamn week, but the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism issues have flared back up again with big ol’ flames, not unlike a menorah but maybe without the ninth helper candle so they’re all flailing around slowly burning themselves out. So, this time, Labour’s National Executive Committee and Jeremy Corbyn all agreed to approve a new code of conduct on anti-Semitism which states ‘anti-Semitism is racism. It is unacceptable in our party and wider society’. And I mean, if I stopped there, that’d sound ok right? Well done, you got a new code, you’re doing something great. Everyone go home and have a pie. Except this code doesn’t quite follow the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism even though that’s what the Parliamentary Labour Party voted it should do beforehand and in June of last year the European Parliament voted to adopt it across all its member states something that was taken up everywhere except by Victor Orban’s party in Hungary, a party who are also known to be, well, massive racists. When that sort of thing happens you want to distance yourself right? It’s like when you realise dickheads like the same band as you and so, very quickly, you stop liking that band. That’s 31 countries, 130 councils in the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary who’ve all taken the IHRA definition and Labour went, no thanks as you can tell from our record on this, we’ve got it in hand.
There are four examples of anti-Semitism of the IHRA’s definition that Labour have rejected and those are:
And again, we come to the fine lines between being critical of Israel and being anti-Semitic. Sure, say Israel has just passed an extremely racist new law that makes it a Jewish nation state at the brutal expense of all its Arabic citizens, but that doesn’t mean you have to state that the state’s entire existence is racist, as looking for a two-state solution is clearly best. It’s pretty easy to have all four of those and still be critical when you need to. Does Labour really require higher standard of behavior from Israel than other nations? Or can they just say, ‘Israel are as shitty to Palestine as Saudi Arabia are to Yemen and that shit needs to stop.’ See? You do start to wonder if they’ve just not taken these on incase it means several more members have to be sacked than they could do with it. It’s also worth pointing out that the Conservative Party rule book didn’t have the IHRA code in it either, or use the term anti-Semitism at all, well until Channel 4 Fact Checkers pointed it out and then they quietly added it, hoping no one would notice. I mean they had to, they can’t be the party of Islamphobia and anti-Semitism. That’s just greedy and what would Labour do without such a key party identifier? But this is really not a great look for Labour, a party who already had issues in this area to avoid doing something they could have done to make this issue go away and ease their Jewish members, especially in the week they are finally ahead in the polls overall. It is amazing that an entire party can exhibit self-destructive behavior but I’m really starting to think that if they won a general election, the first thing Corbyn would do is step down and hand leadership to a sad pigeon because he couldn’t help himself. It’s this sort of decision that lead Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, a woman best known for ignoring child abuse in Islington and for calling out tax dodgers while receiving funds from an offshore family account, to call Corbyn a ‘fucking anti-Semite and a racist’ which is now, of course, the biggest story, and you do sort of think, well you could’ve just avoided all of this and now you’ve just been shamed by a really shameful idiot which is super low. It’s like a werewolf telling you, you need a haircut and shave. They might not be entirely wrong but damn it hurts coming from them. Now Hodge is now facing disciplinary action which is good and swift but then compared to how long it took to discipline Ken ‘every other word is Hitler’ Livingston or even Jarad O’Mara who resigned first because it was taking so long, it seems odd that Labour didn’t just think of delaying Hodge’s disciplinarian just a wee bit and at least trying to pretend to be equal with all these things. It just seems beyond them to do that. There is an emergency meeting in Parliament tonight though Corbyn says he doesn’t want the party to discuss it before summer. I’m really starting to wonder if Labour’s campaign slogan next election is just going to be ‘We’re so in tune with everyday people that really, you could probably do a better job than us.’
INTERVIEW PART 1
The term target means a person, object or place selected as the aim of attack, which I think is why when clever media and advertising bods talk of a ‘target market’ I just really worry a lot of tasty fruit and veg and some rip off Levis are about to get unnecessarily blown up. In terms of political advertising, targeting has taken on a whole new level of importance thanks to social media with parties doubling their Facebook spending between 2015 & 2017 just so they can hammer home their manifesto policies that they likely won’t keep, direct to your phone or tablet in-between you checking if your BFF is ok hon, looking through your ex’s holiday pics in the hope they’re having a shit time or about to post some weird sycophantic life message that you don’t adhere to yourself. But a number of investigations over the last couple of years have revealed that advert targeting isn’t all that it seems with questions over how British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica targeted people almost individually based on their personal data, or how Labour HQ made adverts just for Jeremy Corbyn so he couldn’t see that they weren’t carrying out his plans at all. So how do you know if the ad that pops up on your homepage or time line is sent to by the source it says or funded by a mysterious Russian agent, some millionaire with a secret agenda, or just your own party being dickheads? And how will this affect political campaigning in the future because why go out canvassing when you can just send a message saying ‘you know it’s bit hypocritical if you vote Green while spending your weekends shouting at the sea telling fish to fuck off’?
This week I spoke to Sam Jeffers, co-founder of Who Targets Me, a browser extension that collects data from the ads you see on your social media sites and tells you exactly who they’re from in the aim of increasing political advertising transparency. He very kindly told me how it works, what they are using the data for and just why this is an important issue in both UK and global politics. Here is Sam:
INTERVIEW PART 1
Tiernan Douieb: So what is Who Targets Me and why did you start it up?
Sam Jeffers: Who Targets Me is an effort to track political Facebook advertising, so really to understand how that’s being used to influence voters, what parties are doing, what targeting they’re using, what spending, what messages they’re putting out there, so to try and help people understand that and interpret that. The reason we started it was really was because that was a completely unknown area, there’s very little data or research about the use of social media advertising in politics at all. There had been 3 elections in a row, so the 2015 election where the Tories said that Facebook ads were a big part of their victory then, the 2016 Brexit referendum and then the Trump victory as well where Facebook ads had seen to produce an unexpected result. All 3 campaigns had claimed they were an important thing and the polls had pointed in one direction and the result came out in another. When the 2017 election came around here, it felt like an opportunity to really examine that in a lot more detail.
TD: How much of a difference do you think it’s making to the political landscape, these targeting advertisements? I know obviously it’s very difficult to work out if, say, psychometrics has an impact or not, isn’t it?
SJ: Yes, and I think that’s exactly it, I think we’re still really early in the research of the impact of this stuff. You know, frankly, even in the US where there has been 50 years of TV advertising, it’s not always clear what the impact of that is in terms of the sort of long-term research agenda. It’s a very difficult thing to unpick and isolate from other communications, elections are these very special times really when much more attention is being paid to politics, the entire media is amplifying different messages all over the place, candidates get a lot more time and visibility. Then, alongside this, we now have, in the UK’s case, millions of pounds being spent on social media advertising, Facebook advertising. In the US, that’s getting close to billions of dollars now being spent per cycle on social media advertising. So, you’ve got this huge new thing that’s come in, it’s very tempting for campaigns to use it because they think, ‘Well, we can reach our voters without having to build any prior relationship with them, we can just say, “Right, these are the people we want to go after, let’s put our ads in front of those people, we’ll get out the credit card and pay the money,”.’ But actually, in terms of both turnout effect and vote share, it’s not totally clear that spending £1 million on Facebook ads is a decisive factor just yet.
TD: I’m guessing people are spending money on it because they must at least think it works. There must be something that people can see from it to spending that much campaign funds on it?
SJ: I think so. I think what people know is that they’re reaching people, which they have always tried to do that, right, so knocking on doors, delivering leaflets. Facebook advertising is a factor of 10 cheaper than any of those sorts of things, maybe even more than that. Political campaigns find these ads very tempting, they’re very cheap, they’re very targeted, you can go back to the same people over and over again, you can see who’s engaging with them. There’s a totally different type of communication really that you’re starting off by virtue of putting stuff on social media, people can share your stuff, for example, so that gives you more value for money. No one’s ever handed round an election leaflet to 300 of their friends and said, ‘Look at this amazing election leaflet, I love it, it’s terrific.’ So the temptation to use social media is very, very great, and then you see that in a growing expenditure among political parties on it.
TD: One of the things that you’re aiming to do with Who Targets Me is increase the transparency in online advertising, how much of a threat is the secrecy of who’s targeting you? I know we’ve had the Cambridge Analytica story in the news, which I think has raised some awareness, I know that still hasn’t been entirely fully investigated yet, but how little do people know about who’s actually targeting them at the moment?
SJ: I think it’s the fact that, for us, you kind of approach it from the other angle, which is ‘what does good democracy look like?’ It looks like open debates with conclusions arrived at through the reconciliation of different points of view across society and all these sorts of things. What you have with microtargeting and dark ads is the ability to show one thing to one set of people and another thing to another set of people and never really allow them to know about that. So, the argument for transparency has been to try and avoid that happening and to keep us debating national political issues at a broad national level. What you do though see around the edges of some of the work we’re doing is pages that are set up that have no attribution behind them, so there’s no contact information, no real sense of who’s set it up in the first place, running ads about quite often controversial topics and pushing them to specific groups of people that they think will be persuaded by it. In that sense, you can look at that as part of an effort to stretch debates in directions that maybe they wouldn’t have previously been stretched in. So, recently we’ve been looking at a page that, for example, is called ‘Hard Brexit or Civil War?’ The page has no contact information it and it’s clearly trying to pull people towards the direction that if Brexit were to somehow fail then violence or other civil disobedience is an appropriate response to what’s happening. The page has a couple of thousand people on it, it’s growing slowly, a couple of hundred people a week it seems to be growing at the rate of, they’re running ads and they’re pushing a general right-wing agenda. So, you know, some of the posts are Islamophobic, some of the posts are pro Tommy Robinson, other posts are very anti Jeremy Corbyn and the left in general, but generally they want to see a hard Brexit or a no deal Brexit and the alternative is violence. Now, you know, it may not be that the followers of that page do anything but there are clearly examples of the internet radicalising people to take certain views on and that’s a very anti-government, anti-establishment perspective to take, you know. So, that stuff around the edges we find really, really interesting as well because it’s trying to stretch debates in directions they wouldn’t otherwise have gone.
TD: I guess with things like that, if they’re advertising, they must be funding it somehow and it’s very hard to know if that’s an individual person’s page or if it’s coming from some larger campaign group.
SJ: Exactly. So, that could be coming from an individual with a credit card, you know, it doesn’t cost a lot of money to reach 2,000 followers of a page. It could be coming from, exactly as you say, a campaign group that wants of has a particular perspective on Brexit. It could be coming from Russia or another foreign power because it looks very similar to the stuff that they were doing in the 2016 election. It could just be from people who want to watch the world burn. It’s a very difficult thing to understand and read the full intentions of that particular advertisement and the page behind it because there’s not enough transparency to do so. If it just turns out to be a Brexit supporting person in Britain with a particularly strong view on it, it maybe feels less worrying than if it were a state-controlled propaganda effort but it still might have the same effect, which is to get someone or some people out on the streets] trying to hurt other people as a result of some political decisions that were made. There’s a real challenge in terms of getting more transparency because it just allows us to interpret things more clearly and maybe be reassured by some stuff but also potentially to know what to be really concerned about.
TD: Social media can just reach so many people in such a short amount of time, and I think, as you say, all political sides it can cause, if we look towards the Trump protests coming out this week that will already have gone by the time people hear this, that’s all been put together over Facebook, or various Brexit protests and Tommy Robinson things have all been put together via it. With this level of direct contact with people, surely the Electoral Commission is going to have to update? This must now be the future of campaigning.
SJ: Yes, it seems that way. You know, we may only be early in the future of campaigning, there’s lots of stuff that’s imaginable from a technological perspective that we think it would be good to start worrying about and thinking about now in terms of regulating elections. You know, democracy is a relatively long-term and stable thing and yet every electoral cycle, something new emerges or people are trying different techniques or using data in a different way and so on. So we think that the Electoral Commission probably should start looking both at what’s already happened over the past 5-10 years in terms of social media advertising and just that general ability to reach anyone at scale from your bedroom but, at the same time, to also think about how would bad actors potentially misuse new technology in the future to target people to trick them into believing certain things, to personalise messages for them at basically zero cost, and what new rules are required to do that. Yes, the Electoral Commission and a few others are beginning to put some recommendations forward around social media advertising but it’s also important to think about what happens in the next cycle or what’s going to be happening in 5 or 10 years from now because often you`ll look at the US and you’ll look at other places where frankly there’s more money in elections and therefore they get to experiment with new things. Then 1 or 2 cycles behind that it comes over to the UK and suddenly that’s what we’re doing. That feels a bit too unintentional for our liking.
TD: How much should be on the part of the social media sites? How much should they be responsible for it? I know Mark Zuckerberg met US congress, which looked like most of the congress were very confused by everything he said, then he met the EU parliament but he doesn’t seem to have taken that must responsibility in dealing with this. Do you think it should be on the part of the sites or should it be on the part of governments and a country’s own democracy to be dealing with it?
SJ: Yes, I think in the first instance it would be good to see a country’s own democracy to go through a process to decide what it wants to have happen, that again comes from this principle of ‘what does good democracy look like in the first place?’ So, if we can establish some clear stuff there and some rules around how we want to see campaigning take place and what sorts of rules we should put around campaigns to make sure people can trust where the messages are coming from, who’s buying it and all the rest of it, then that feels like a good start point to then go back to platforms and say, ‘Well this is what we want you to make.’ At the moment it feels like we’re in this really stuck place between those 2 things, Facebook has been under a lot of pressure, they’re building some new transparency tools, they’re doing them kind of without really asking anyone else what they think about it or what they think is needed, they’re just doing what they think will probably get them past this story and allow them to point to probably their advertisers and say, ‘Well, it’s the advertisers that are doing bad stuff, it’s not us. Look, we’re transparent and above board.’ Whereas, in fact, what probably needs to happen is there needs to be a kind of mixture of people that involve the platforms, governments, civil society groups and all the rest of it getting round together and saying, ‘Well this is what we think good looks like, let’s set that standard really, really high and make the things that we need to make in order to have good quality campaigns in elections.’ It feels like we’re quite a long way from that at the moment.
END OF INTERVIEW PART 1
And we’ll be back with Sam in a minute but first…
Tiernan, I hear you ask, what good news do you bring about Brexit to send us into the sweltering summer with so we can relax mindlessly all reassured that there is ultimately nothing to worry about. Sure sure sure. I can do that. Ok. Erm, well if you look at the photo of earth from the Voyager one space probe taken approximately 6bn miles away where our planet is less than a pixel in size, you realise that actually, in the vast scheme of things, Brexit isn’t all that important and is only a tiny fraction of time compared to infinite happenings. Does that help? No. Ok sure. How about hey Brexit could be over a lot quicker than you think? Is that helpful? No don’t ask why. No just carry on and be happy and don’t ask why. Ah fuck, ok it’s because chances of a no deal are real high so we could just be unceremoniously catapulted out of the union like a large burning burdensome rock without any transition deal or anything meaning Brexit itself will be done by end of March next year. Why are you crying into your cocktail? I said not to ask dagnabbit.
Yes, after Theresa May said time and time again ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ she put out the offer of a bad deal that no one wanted, meaning no deal is back on the table and now no one wants to eat at the table as it’s causing a real stink. To be honest, we’ll probably have to throw the table out or set fire to it or something now. So to break it down, the White paper which the EU probably wouldn’t have accepted entirely anyway is now dead because the Brexiteers Conservatives gave the government amendments that meant they essentially sabotaged their own plan meaning really the last three weeks of work could’ve just not happened and we’d be in exactly the same position except slightly less angry at 4 Labour MPs, 2 Lib Dem MPs and the Conservative whip. So now if Brexit talks fail the Irish Border backstop is illegal and can’t happen, the government won’t have to join the European customs union and the only thing they were defeated on was having to stay part of the European Medicines agency which is good because everyone is already very sick of the plans of these obviously fevered minds.
So now, once again, the possibility of there being a no deal is back with different people telling you how good or bad that is depending on what you and they want to hear and how little you’ve read. Let’s put it this way, there’s very few areas where none of something is better than a bad of something. Nuclear war is probably one. No war is better than a bad war. Yep, true. Sickness too. No gonorrhea is better than a bad gonorrhea. Sure. But apart from the obvious it just gets shady. I mean, even no news is better than bad news, makes you wonder why there is no news at all. Has there been a military coup taking over the news stations? Has all life ceased to exist? Bit creepy if you ask me. Similarly, no deal is exactly that, no deal, it does what it says on the tin you’re stockpiling, and so when it comes to trading on pretty much everything from fruit and veg to whether planes can land or have to just circle the UK like a metal vulture looking over long dead scraps of a once alive land, then really no deal is very much the worst deal you could have. According to the IMF, a no deal would hurt EU countries but nowhere near as much as hurting the UK and Ireland which would be damaged the most. So even if you’re all for Brexit because you simply want to hurt the EU, the UK going for no deal as an option is like us cutting off our arm and bleeding to death while all they have to deal with is a stained carpet.
Looking at the 16 page document the EU have done on a no deal, this includes no transition deal so we’ll be out from 30th March 2019, significant delays at borders while customs procedures are fulfilled, disconnecting the UK from a number of databases that they will no longer have access to and the UK would become a third country which would give us the same trading rights as, well, a lot of non-EU countries. It’s a lot like the clock would strike midnight in Europe, which is of course, only 11pm here, and the EU would open the windows and start throwing all our belongings out into the street and if we showed up to collect them while they were in, they’d call the police. That’s a no deal.
And so rather than fix it, the government are either, like Jeremy Hunt is warning, saying that we might get a no deal by accident, you know in the accidental way the government have failed to plan for this in over two years because they thought sheer national pride and saying we believe in Brexit would power us through, in the same way thoughts and prayers are currently solving gun violence in the US. Or they are blaming the EU for it, which never seems like a great idea and without government backing Dominic Raab is saying we can threaten to not pay the Brexit dividend we owe even though we owe it and have agreed to it and how does that look to other potential trade deals if we approach them saying ‘hey sign up to stuff with us, and we’ll likely back out last minute then tell everyone it’s your fault.’
So here we are with a summer ahead and the only real options for this to go anywhere are a leadership contest, ousting May and placing someone else in charge. But then who are the options? Boris? Javid? It’s like choosing to upgrade your smart phone to an old white dog turd. And who’d want to take that job on? That’s not just a poisoned chalice, that’s a party keg of Novichok. Then there is the possibility of a National Government of Unity which would require all parties to take responsibility for Brexit which no one wants to do at all. So then maybe a general election, again. Except the general public don’t really want that and based on current polls it’d either be Conservatives again with the same lack of majority or Labour with one and neither would be able to push through policies easily meaning it’d be pointless and we’d have had to hear shitty campaign slogans for weeks just to make it all worse. What no one needs right now is to hear strong and stable ever again unless it’s referring to a weight lifting and equestrian circus duo and even then, it’s pushing it. The fourth possibility is a people’s vote, which I explained why it’d be difficult last week and a recent YouGov poll in the Times showed that with 3 vote options, 50% would now back remaining, 33% want a no deal because eating’s overrated anyway and 17% want to leave with a deal because if you’re going to do a job badly, do it properly badly. That’s the saying right? But if we had a people’s vote and remain won then I guess the government could just cancel all of this and then we’ll go back to good old fighting each other over all their other shitty decisions and dealing with the fall out of the die heard Brexiteers foaming at the mouth so much the Commons becomes like a soapy Ibiza party. Or all 27 EU states agree to extend the Article 50 deadline but I mean they’d be thinking the whole time ‘what extend it so you can piss about for another whole year when we could just shut this down now’. The EU have already said they would only think about that if there was a major shift in UK politics and Boris Johnson has resigned so that won’t happen. Oh sorry, they said shift. I see.
Still though, Dominic Raab is certain the government will have a Brexit deal by October and he promises to head to Brussels this week and strain every sinew, which mostly sounds like he’s going to shit himself. And I feel like if the threats about the Brexit bill won’t work, neither will a dirty protest. Over the summer various cabinet ministers are being sent around Europe to meet various leaders to try and rescue the deal and you see, there’s the good news, right there. Because I know you were all worried about what two months away from parliament would do for our Brexit chances and it all looked pretty bleak but now you know that Jeremy Hunt is going to Germany, David Lidlington is going to France, Sajid Javid to Spain and Greg Clarke to Italy, you’re feeling all secure right? Right? Why are you still sad? Maybe just look at that pale blue dot picture until December, yeah? That’s it. That’s it.
And now, back to Sam…
INTERVIEW PART 2
TD: Sometimes my personal worry with things like Facebook is that it’s so big that I can’t work out how they could feasibly manage something, it’s almost outgrown what they ever thought it could be, does that then become unmanageable? We’re talking about some of the possible country interference with advertising, things like that, Russian hacking, etc., when it becomes global, does that then become too big to manage?
SJ: I certainly don’t think it’s easy. I think this is why we’re interested in a really, really high standard of transparency because it allows other people to monitor and see what’s going on as well. I don’t think it should be up to Facebook to hire however many thousands of new people it says it’s going to hire to try and deal with some of these problems, they should be in the business of helping other people like us build tools to inform voters about, ‘This ad looks like a foreign influence effort,’ and, ‘This ad appears to have claims that are untrue in it,’ or, ‘This ad is targeting you because you have these psychological traits.’ That sort of stuff would be really helpful in terms of giving people more ability to read and be literate about the materials they’re seeing. At the moment, all of that is coming out of Facebook, a little bit of it is coming out of Twitter, YouTube has some other ideas, Google itself hasn’t said much about searches, so everyone has a different approach. It feels to me like, by setting a really high standard for what’s available in terms of data and information, then actually you can almost create a marketplace in helping people understand political communication better, I think that would probably be a really good place to get to in the future.
TD: One of the things that I’ve heard about, I’m way too old to really know about this, but I keep hearing that younger people, people under the age of 25, are using a lot more closed network apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and things like that, is that better? Are people that use those more protected from targeted advertisements?
SJ: I think they’re currently at least protected to some extent from targeted ads, so WhatsApp doesn’t really do advertising yet, although it probably will in due course. I think what they’re not protected from are random sharing of links that may include stuff that’s completely untrue in it. In the news at the moment there are a lot of stories coming out of India of WhatsApp groups being stuffed full of fake news and causing people to do really horrible things, lynchings almost of other people, as a result of links and news that they’re seeing in WhatsApp groups. The challenge there is because WhatsApp particularly is end-to-end encrypted, no one can really see what’s going on, there’s no visibility as to the communications that people are receiving, then you have an unknown social problem. This stuff ebbs and flows. I remember in the riots in London a few years ago everyone was freaking out about Blackberry Messenger stuff which had a similar type of problem, people sharing information and coordinating different ways in ways that the state can’t see, and there are big questions about freedom and free speech in general around these kind of communication channels. We do need to work out how in the longer term to make people understand whether what they’re seeing is true, how to interrogate it, what to trust, and I think these are really big questions, and because the internet is still, despite the big platform’s dominance, is still so open, anyone can make anything. There are potentially lots of really big problems still out there.
TD: I’ve heard quite a lot of arguments that say what we should be doing is teaching critical thinking in schools so, as you say, people can just be a lot more aware of what it is that they’re taking in. We live in such a fast culture. I do it all the time, I often just click on things and share them without even thinking about it, it’s very hard to retrain yourself to analyse where it’s coming from, what it might be saying before you do that.
SJ: Yes, I think that’s right. I mean, I think the sort of idea that media literacy in this new world will be taught in schools and will be taught the same way as you learns maths or English, like, ‘Here are some criteria to try and understand,’ you know, political communications, I think isn’t quite what literacy should ultimately turn out to be. I think literacy should turn out to be people being allowed to build tools and interpretive things that help you understand what’s going on in real time. So, could you have a little app on your phone that is a link checker or pass any links that you click on through some tool that will give you some interpretation that you trust so it comes from a place where, ‘Okay, I know that they check the facts, I know that they look for these foreign disinformation campaigns, I know that they look for the sources of money,’ and they can annotate and help you interpret stuff. I’d like to see a place where we could get to better tools for helping people interpret things and that would help them read that sort of constant inflow of information that they’re getting from being online all the time.
TD: Speaking of better tools, the Who Targets Me app that you can get for Chrome and I assume several other browsers as well?
SJ: Chrome and Firefox.
TD: What do people need to do? They just need to go to the site and then download it, and then what happens from there?
SJ: Exactly. So, it goes to the site, one click to download it and it will install in your browser. Then you can just set it up, so we ask for a little anonymous profile information from people, so your age, location, gender, a little bit about your political leaning, then you just leave it alone to do its work. So, after a while, after it’s collected some political ads, you’ll see a bar chart breakdown of who’s been targeting you, you’ll see a personalised list of all the ads that have come through your feed and you’ll also be able to see the reasons why you were targeted with those ads. So that works to give you some individual information about the advertising you’re seeing, it allows you to hold politicians and campaigns to account about those messages, did they come through with their promises, but at the same time allows us as a wider project to interpret the trends in advertising generally, you know, what messages are which parties and candidates using where?
TD: So you must already have a year’s worth on data on this now. You started last year, is that correct?
SJ: Yes, we’ve got lots of data and we’ve had users install it in over 50 countries as well, so we’ve got quite a lot of global data on the different ways that people are using these ads.
TD: That’s fascinating, very exciting. Apart from yourself, obviously, apart from Who Targets Me, which everyone should go and download, what other groups or writers or campaigners would you recommend for listeners to check out if they’re interested in critical thinking and targeted political advertising and things around that area? Who do you look to for information?
SJ: We do a bit of work with Oxford University actually, they have an internet institute there that runs a project that they call the Computational Propaganda Research Project, which to date has been largely about Twitter bots and how links get carried around Twitter but they’re moving into other social networks and have some really interesting things to say in terms of that sort of philosophical divide between the need for transparency and some control versus freedom of expression and who gets to say what. They’re quite good on the philosophy of it. Full Fact is very good on fact checking and has some stuff about advertising and some interests again in transparency in this area. So there are a few organisations out there working in this space. ProPublica in the US has a similar tool to ours that they use to look at not just political ads but ads that are political in nature, so housing discrimination and issues along those lines where you can see the targeting is in fact breaking the law in itself. I think all of those organisations point in the general direction of more transparency and more data being available as being a good thing, I think that’s where we look about who’s coming to conclusions based on the actual data that they’re seeing.
END OF INTERVIEW PART 2
Now that is the end of the interview but as we were wrapping up, I suddenly realized that I had no idea what Dark Ads were, aside from maybe guessing they were telling people er, buy dark, er no. Still no idea. So here is Sam explaining:
BIT ABOUT DARK ADS
TD: I don’t know what dark ads are, I know what micro targeting is.
SJ: Okay. So, dark ads are ads that are targeted at one group of people but don’t appear in the public timeline on Facebook. So, you know, most of the ads in fact that you see are not posts that if you went to the page who was targeting you that you’d see in their normal timeline, they’re not promoted posts, they’re not boosting a post, they’re just an ad created for the purposes of reaching you and people like you. I suppose what’s happened now is that Facebook has started to at least publish those ads while they’re running so they’re no longer truly dark although you have no sense of who else is seeing an ad or how many people are seeing it or how much money is being spent on it and all those sorts of things. So, we’re hopeful that although dark ads are less dark than they were, they’re still very hard to read and interpret, and that’s some of the work that we’re trying to do.
END OF BIT ABOUT DARK ADS
So there you go! Thank you to Sam for the chat, and you can find him on Twitter @wrklsshrd, and you can find and download Who Targets Me at whotargets.me, or on Twitter @whotargetsme and on Facebook at, yes, you’ve guessed it, Who Targets Me. I’ve downloaded and added it but as yet, it’s not gathered enough data on my website doings, haha I’m so goddamn sneaky online slash really boring, so I’ll let you know the results if I remember to after the summer.
And that’s it for now, and hopefully that’ll send you into the summer being hugely paranoid about everything you do online. When this show returns in the Autumn, I’ll be needing some new interviewees and so, look, you’ve got at least 6 weeks to send in recommendations this time, so you can definitely contact me via the form on the partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk site, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or shout at me on the @parpolbro Twitter or facebook group. Or you can design an unnecessarily large banner and carry it with you to Green Man festival and hold it up during my set and I’ll not be able to see because usually stage lights are bright and loads of people will get angry with you for blocking their view until you’re escorted out and have to wave it at the Fleet Foxes instead who will just get confused. Or swap their folk warblings for in depth political discussion. Either way, that’s win. Definitely do that. Or email. Maybe just email.
And that’s all for this week’s Partly Political Broadcast podcast, and for this seasons? Or runs? I dunno what you call these things but that’s it for till at least mid-September unless something truly bonkers happens in which case I’ll try my best to do some mini updates. But that’s also more than ample time to give this show a review on your podcast apps and adcast pops, or to donate to the ko-fi or Patreon or in fact, even just fill in the survey puh-lease. And of course, get in touch about anything else at all really. Though podcast or politics related is probably best.
Big thank you to Acast for letting this show shelter in it’s audio haven and to my brother the Last Skeptik who you can hear play at Bestival in September if you’re going to that. I think he’s on the Friday in the Bollywood and Big Top tents before Goldie but double check that because I don’t really know anything for certain ever.
This will be back after the summer when Theresa May returns from her walking holiday to announce that we’ll be having a snap general people’s election referendum at the same time as a Conservative leadership contest, a national government of unity and a guess how many sweets are in the jar sweepstake ultimately delegating all responsibility onto everyone else and resulting in Susie, aged 6 from Fanny Barks in Durham somehow getting a lot of sweets and the job of Prime Minister.
This week’s podcast was brought to you by Vince Cable’s new anti-Brexit centrist party, the Diberal Lemocrats. Do you feel no party represents you? Are The Conservatives too right wing, Labour too left wing, UKIP too wingdings and Green not using wings due to their effect on the environment? Did you like standing right in the centre with your middle of the road music, like, er, Travis probably and the thrill of constantly being in danger of being hit by a car? Well now the Diberal Lemocrats are here to gently hold your hand but not in a creepy way. We are a new anti-Brexit centrist party and not at all like the Liberal Democrats that no one likes anymore. They have a yellowy orangey bird for their logo. We, well we have an orangey yellowy bird for ours. They’re fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united and we’re fighting for a united, tolerant and open Britain. So you know, totally different. Even our leader is a different Vince Cable to the one you’re thinking of. Yep they look the same but that’s a total coincidence. Vote Dib Lems because who cares about tuition fees or gay sex anyway, I mean why would we? No you brought it up. No you did.