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June 21, 2021
In September 2020, the Government consulted on proposals to make online political campaigning more transparent through the introduction of a “digital imprints” regime for political parties, campaigners and others so that their identity, when promoting campaign content online, is clear to voters.
The Government received 73 responses to the consultation from a wide range of stakeholders, including the general public, technology companies, public bodies, political parties and others. Respondents indicated support for most of the proposals, saying that the regime would improve public confidence in campaigning, help to close a gap in transparency, and aid oversight and enforcement on the part of regulators and civil society. Accordingly, the Government will be going ahead and introducing a new digital imprints regime in line with its original proposals, but with a few changes made as a result of feedback received.
Under the new regime, all paid-for electronic material will require an imprint, regardless of who it is promoted by. “Paid-for electronic material” is electronic material that can reasonably be regarded as seeking to influence the public (or any section of the public) to give support to, or withhold support from, a registered political party, holder of elected office, candidate, future candidate, (the holding of) a referendum (in the UK or any part of the UK) or particular outcome in a referendum.
The digital imprints regime will apply all year round to reflect the way digital campaigning operates and differs from offline campaigning practices. Any promoter failing to comply with the rules will be guilty of a criminal offence, subject to a potentially unlimited fine imposed by a court in England and Wales. Upon conviction in Scotland or Northern Ireland, a fine would not exceed level five on the standard scale.
Other key points:
- enforcement: the Electoral Commission and police will share responsibility for enforcing the regime;
- details on the imprint: the imprint should state the name and address of the promoter of the material and the name and address of any person or organisation on behalf of whom the material is being promoted (if different from the promoter);
- location of the imprint: campaigners will be required to include an imprint on all electronic material within the scope of the regime;
- statutory guidance: the Electoral Commission will draft statutory guidance, reviewed by Ministers and approved by Parliament;
- appearance of the imprint: the promoter or person or organisation on behalf of whom the material is being promoted (if different from the promoter) will be responsible for taking all reasonable steps to ensure that the imprint is legible or audible and replicable regardless of the platform the material is accessed on;
- re-publishing of electronic material: The re-publishing or “sharing” of most electronic material will generally not require a new imprint, but it may do so if the campaigner substantively alters the electronic material they are re-publishing or if the material being re-shared had not previously required an imprint but is then shared in circumstances where the material is then within the regime;
- exemptions: there will be exemptions from the regime, including material published for journalistic purposes and party political broadcasts or referendum campaign broadcasts;
- territoriality: The Government’s aim is that the regime will operate on a UK-wide basis; it will also apply to material irrespective of the country from which it is promoted;
- duty to share: there will be a general duty on any organisation or person to share information with the Electoral Commission and police when requested in support of the enforcement of the digital imprints regime; and
- notice to take down infringing material: following a conviction for a digital imprints offence, the courts (or Electoral Commission) may issue digital platforms with a notice to take down or to disable access to infringing material.
To read the Government’s response in full, click here.