MSP’s Facebook spend seven times more than other politicians

Alex Rowley, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife
Alex Rowley, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife

A Fife MSP has spent seven times as much on Facebook adverts as any of his counterparts in the region.

Alex Rowley, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, has spent over £700 on 51 ads on the social media site since October last year, according to latest figures.

That’s compared to other politicians in the region including Willie Rennie, MSP for North East Fife; Lesley Laird, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath and Stephen Gethins, MP for North East Fife, who have each spent £107 or less during that same period.

Facebook users are being targeted with thousands of adverts seeking to influence their opinion of local politics.

Nationwide, hundreds of individual MPs, elected officials and local authorities have placed nearly half a million pounds’ worth of promotions on the site in less than a year.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media giant last year began publishing details of who places – and pays for – adverts promoting political or social issues. Spending on these ads, often targeted to specific groups, has totalled more than £6.4m since last October.

And while much of the attention has focused on the big parties and pressure groups on either side of the Brexit divide, the data also reveals the thousands of adverts placed at a local level, often seeking to influence constituents on what can appear to be seemingly mundane neighbourhood issues.

Mr Rowley said: “Facebook is a well-used and effective way of communicating with constituents in 21st century Scotland. Of my expenditure on Facebook advertising since last October, £358.40, was spent on advertising my MSP surgeries which I hold across the region. This covered the cost of 33 individual surgeries and was paid for from my Parliamentary advertising budget.

“Many people who came along to surgeries told me they knew it was on thanks to the Facebook advert, so it does work. The spend for each surgery held is roughly £10.

“The rest of my Facebook expenditure was for political campaigning and this was paid for by myself.”

The figures show Labour MP Lesley Laird paid £107 for 26 adverts on Facebook.

She said: “Boosting Facebook posts is becoming a more common practice because elected representatives all communicate through social media now and understand its importance.

“I’m not a prolific user of boosting and only spend limited budgets – the most being £10 on any single ad – but on topical issues which affect constituents it’s a vital tool to reach out to more people.”

SNP MP Stephen Gethins, who represents North East Fife and spent less than £100 on six ads, said: “While social media has its place and is good for communicating information about the work I do at Westminster and in the constituency and for publicising surgeries, I feel it is equally important to engage with constituents in person where possible. Getting out and about as often as Westminster will allow, is the best way to get to know the views of constituents and find out if I can be of any assistance.

“I also spend a great deal of time knocking on doors and writing letters to constituents. The local press is also a great way to share information on what I have been doing and to highlight issues of importance locally.”

Willie Rennie, Lib Dem MSP for North East Fife, spent less than £100 on four ads.