The Facebook election: candidates spent ‘big’ on social media

Social media election: parties and candidates spend over €80,000 on Facebook

Over €80,000 were spent on taking out Facebook and Instagram adverts in the past three months by Maltese political parties and candidates in the European elections.

The data emerges from Facebook transparency information provided with adverts taken out by paying entities.

The data shows that Nationalist Party candidates and the party spent a total of €49,824 on Facebook ads for its MEP electoral campaign since 1 March, while the Labour Party and its representatives spent a total of €24,446.

The latter’s total does not include the ads paid for by the Partit Laburista page as aggregate data for this page hasn’t yet been compiled by Facebook.

Between them, the two major parties spent €74,270.

The Facebook pages of the two major party leaders, Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia spent €3,920 and €6,348 on Facebook ads respectively. These were paid for by their respective parties.

The data shows that the PN’s highest spender was incumbent MEP David Casa, spending a total of €6,853 on Facebook ads since March. In the last week of campaigning, between 16 April and May 23, Casa spent €2,762.

For the PL, incumbent Alfred Sant was the highest spender with €6,326 spent since March. Of these, €2,328 were spent between 16 April and 23 May.

This contrasted with the front-runners for the major parties, Labour MEP Miriam Dalli and Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola.

Metsola spent €1,901 since March, less than half of that (€633) in the last week of the electoral campaign. Dalli spent far less on Facebook ads, buying just €409 worth of advertising. Of these, €132 were spent in the last week of the campaign. Metsola spent just 27.7% of Casa’s full amount. Dalli spent 6.5% of her PL colleague Alfred Sant’s full amount.

The other big spender for PN was incumbent Francis Zammit Dimech, who spent €5,032 for his campaign on Facebook. All incumbents, except for Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi, are running for re-election.

But while Metsola has polled highly in MaltaToday surveys, the prospect of a Labour landslide in these elections has placed in doubt the third PN seat, which would leave prospective MEP Frank Psaila breathing down the neck of incumbent David Casa.

The other big Labour spender after Sant was Cyrus Engerer, spending €4,895 in paid Facebook advertising. Engerer had already withdrawn from the 2014 election for MEP over a criminal court case, and is now running for MEP after spending several years working in Brussels in the government’s permanent representation to the EU.

For the PN, candidates Michael Briguglio (€1,696), Roselyn Borg Knight (€1,175) and David Stellini (€1,575) spent over €1,000 while the arguably more popular candidates Frank Psaila and Peter Agius spent just €472 and €784 respectively on Facebook ads.

For the PL, after Alfred Sant and Cyrus Engerer, former Labour MP Joe Sammut spent the most on Facebook ads, shelling out €3,547 since March.

The younger and more popular PL candidates, Alex Agius Saliba and Josianne Cutajar spent €1,591 and €305 respectively.

On the other hand, Labour candidate Robert Micallef’s Facebook campaign cost him €1,197 while former Orizzont editor Josef Caruana’s adverts amounted to €768.

The PN’s Dione Borg was the only candidate between the two major parties who did not spend a single penny on Facebook ads.
Other candidates, like Michael Mercieca for the PN, James Grech, Felix Galea Busuttil and Mary Gauci for the PL and Mina Tolu for Alternattiva Demokratika spent €100 on Facebook advertising without disclaiming the political nature of their promotions. For this reason, Facebook took down their adverts and reimbursed them.

Facebook requires that all political advertisements are claimed to be political in nature. The social media company’s transparency on paid political advertising stems from recent advertising rules following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s grilling in the US Congress.

Zuckerberg came under fire after Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining firm affiliated with US President Donald Trump collected personal data of Facebook users to allegedly drive Trump's political campaign.

After the two major parties, the most spent on Facebook advertising came from Partit Demokratiku. Martin Cauchi Inglott and Anthony Buttigieg were the only two who made use of paid advertising, spending a combined total of €1,317.

Independent candidates Arnold Cassola and Stephen Florian spent a total of €100 and €471 on Facebook ads respectively. Cassola was reimbursed for not disclaiming the political nature of his ad.

Alleanza Bidla’s candidates Rebecca Dalli Gonzi and Ivan Grech Mintoff (using his TV programme’s Exodus page) used paid advertising on Facebook, spending €156 and €203 respectively since March.

The remaining parties: Imperium Europa; Moviment Patrijotti Maltin; and Brain, Not Ego spent no money on Facebook ads, according to the aggregate data.