The NI Department of Justice #EndingTheHarm campaign viewed over a million times on Snapchat in August 2019

Transparency data released this week by ephemeral messaging app Snapchat has shown that the NI Department of Justice #EndingTheHarm campaign made over a million impressions over an 18 day period last month.

The campaign, part of the Tackling Paramilitarism programme, made 1,138,048 impressions over the course of the campaign. Of the 15 organizations who had political campaigns on the social network in the UK over the course of 2019 so far, it ranked 8th in terms of impressions behind Police Scotland (1.49m) and Amnesty International (2.93m). In August 2019, the Department of Justice campaign ranked first in the UK and 17th worldwide in terms of impressions, ahead of the Labour Party and any of the US presidential campaigns.

Compared to other political campaigns worldwide on the platform, the #EndingTheHarm campaign was good value. The campaign cost $1,131 (£903) in total, meaning that it cost $0.99 (£0.79) per thousand impressions; the weighted average spend across all campaigns worldwide was $1.88 per thousand impressions and in the UK it was $1.96.

By comparison, the British government’s “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign was considerably more expensive. The campaign cost $31,688 (£25,290) and received 3,051,473 impressions, meaning that the government spent $10.38 per thousand impressions, well over ten times as much as the Department of Justice campaign.

So far, over the course of 2019, $89,366 was spent on political campaigns in the UK on Snapchat. Political spending on Snapchat is significantly less, however, than the amount spent at Facebook.

Over the course of the last year, £7m has been spent on political campaigns in the UK on Facebook. The “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign has been the most expensive single campaign on the platform, with £552,357 spent so far. Unlike the Snapchat data, it is not possible to determine how much each campaign spent per thousand impressions.

Of the £7m spent in the UK on political campaigns, the £6.94m in attributable spend for the 12 months is broken out in the chart at the top of the post (I was able to categorize 76% of the total spend). The largest category of spend was by pro-remain pressure groups, such as Best For Britain (£446k). Pro Brexit campaigns have spent less than half as much over the time period.

The Labour Party were the individual party with the highest aggregate spend, with the Conservatives second and the Lib Dems third. The Brexit Party spent £30k more than the Independent Group for Change, who were the fifth largest party by spend. The SNP and the Northern Ireland parties spent very small sums by comparison.

The amount spent on political campaigns in the UK is tiny compared the sums that are spent in the United States. Since May 2018, $784m has been spent on political campaigns in the United States on Facebook, and a further $110m on Google (including YouTube). By comparison, the amount spent on all political campaigns in the UK over the last six months is a mere £26,500. Even allowing for the greater population of the United States compared to the UK, political campaigning on social media is substantially bigger business in the US than is the case in the UK and Ireland.

The transparency data released by the social media companies gives us greater insight than before as to the source and purpose of political advertising online. With both a UK general election and a US presidential election due within the next year, it will be fascinating to see how the online battles for clicks and eyeballs play out between the rival campaigns in real time.

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