Non-transparent political campaigns

24. May 2021.

Gong compared the data on ad expenses on Google and Facebook platforms reported to the State Electoral Commission with the data published in the Political Ads Registry which Google and Facebook have been publishing since 2018. The results show that the problems with presenting costs for internet platforms have remained the same. Namely, only a small number of candidates presented the costs for every digital internet platform separately, so the SEC financial reports have a category called “various networks”. The majority of the candidates hired agencies which still have not issued the invoice they were supposed to present. And finally, investing in the campaigns started before the official campaigns, which is a period that the SEC does not have authority over. According to the Act on the Financing of Political Activities, Election Campaigns and Referendums, the official campaign starts only with the publishing of official candidate lists.

Those are also the reasons why some lists and candidates left the section on online advertising blank, while the data on the social media reveals the opposite. The list of those candidates is long, so we limited the presentation to the amounts that exceed the average March salary in the Republic of Croatia, 7,138 kuna. The amounts shown refer only to the data we managed to connect to Google and Facebook registries. Thus, we used Google data from the beginning of the year to May 2nd, 2021, to display undeclared costs, because for ads after that date, only the range from the smallest to the largest amount is published, which is quite a wide range. Facebook, on the other hand, does not have a publication date and the date until the ad was active, so the data shown refers to the period from April 25th to May 15th of this year.

Alongside that, Facebook is a nursery of pages devoted to covert political advertising. From pages that charge for PR texts, even using public funds, to the ones that serve to slander the opposition or promote oneself using manipulative techniques. In addition to the already known sites such as Priznajem.hr, which has seven active ads on its page at the time of writing, in which it deals with candidates of the political platform Možemo, brothers Marijo and Hrvoje Macan opened a page on Facebook a little over a month ago called Moja anketa, where they publish the results of internet questionnaires distributed via Facebook on the voters’ preferences. When asked about this recently, they stated that they do not collect the data from users who participated in the survey.

On Facebook, the page Stvarnost.hr has local branches and obviously roots for the candidates of Domovinski pokret. Hrvatskadanas and Hrvatski-glasnik attack HDZ and Možemo equally, and the newest page is Zagrebačke Dubioze, made two days ago, dedicated only to Tomislav Tomašević and Možemo! platform and currently has more than 20 active ads only serving that purpose. Moreover, via the page Marin Miletić – moj gradonačelnik, a campaign against the Most candidate was led, while the page Megatroll Split was targeting HDZ’s candidate Vice Mihanović.

Istina o Korenu was also made recently, at the beginning of May, against the HDZ candidate for Koprivnica-Križevci County Prefect Darko Koren. After Mladen Kešer, SDP, GLAS and HSLS candidate joined Koren in the second round of elections, advertising on the page stopped. Koren’s opponents in the first round were Mirjana Hanžeković from Domovinski pokret, Željko Lacković and Zdravko Matotan, both from independent lists.

In order for the Act on the Financing of Political Activities, Election Campaigns and Referendums to secure greater transparency in the online political advertising, pre-election marketing and agencies’ involvement in the campaigns should be regulated better. Obviously, the Rulebook should be clearer in regulating the reporting on the expenses on internet platforms.

Social media are one of the most important communication channels in the political campaigns nowadays. Unfortunately, the regulation of election campaigns is directed only towards reporting the political ads via official communication channels of the political options, even though the campaign is being led via a whole range of guerrilla pages, that do not have a name attached to them. Also, in the pre-election time many webpages and portals without the impressum and stating the responsible people pop up and serve to discredit the specific political party or an individual.

You can find the table HERE.

Gong is a beneficiary of operational support - structural support to European think-do-tanks in its entirety "Democratic and Civic Participation" under the Europe for Citizens program.

Gong is a Knowledge Center in the field of civic activism and building democratic institutions of society within the Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.

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