Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Government's MyTown campaign comes under fire

Social media giant Facebook has taken down government advertising that was accused of targeting voters in marginal election constituencies.

Last week, Business Biscuit reported that the government had launched the campaign to canvas opinions from residents in towns that had successfully applied for regeneration money through the Towns Fund.

First announced by Theresa May in March, local communities across the country were invited to apply for a share of a £3.6bn pot – the Town Fund. Swindon's successful bid was announced in July.

But the government's political opponents have branded the campaign as 'cynical', pointing out that the 100 recipient communities are all marginal seats that the Tories need for election victory at the forthcoming general election.

Labour MP Ian Lucas wrote to cabinet office minister Michael Gove objecting to the campaign, and told HuffPost UK: "It would be an insult to our intelligence to say that this isn't public money being used for political purposes. It clearly is."

A government spokesman denied this, telling the BBC "All towns selected were chosen according to the same selection methodology, including analysis of deprivation, exposure to Brexit, productivity, economic resilience, and investment opportunities."

The campaign was launched last Tuesday – the same day as Boris Johnson secured support for an early general election. Government funds were used to promote the posts, ensuring more people in the relevant constituencies saw them.

Facebook decided this broke new rules surrounding political advertising, brought in after criticism surrounding the role the platform played in pushing political messages in the lead-up to the 2016 referendum.

The new rules say political ads must be clearly marked as such, and include a disclaimer. Funding sources behind political ads must also be transparent.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government denied the ads had been "pulled" by Facebook, insisting that the paid-for campaign had only been scheduled to run until Friday – the day the social media platform took them down.

They still remain as un-promoted posts on the platform. By Monday morning, the Swindon post had received 149 comments, with many residents calling for cheaper car parking and revitalisation of the town centre retail areas.