Ethan Shone 5th December 2019
Facebook is investigating a secretive page that spent a whopping £14,000 on adverts attacking the Labour Party, which may have breached its transparency rules.
The ads, which were published under an anonymous page called Capitalist Worker, typically shared negative press coverage of Labour policies around the economy and workers’ rights.
Under Facebook’s political advertising rules, which came in after the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year, the person or organisation that published the ads must be clear to users in the “promoter” section of the ad.
Facebook has yet to confirm how it allowed the ads to be purchased without the page displaying the name of the “promoter” in its Ad Library.
The Capitalist Worker page does not include any identifying details as to which person or organisation is running it and has not responded to The Overtake’s requests for more information.
We don’t disclose [our funders] due to the harassment they might receive from left-wing organisations
After several attempts to contact the number listed for Capitalist Worker, someone answered and claimed to be “just a technician” before offering to forward any questions on to the right person, then putting the phone down. The email associated with Capitalist Worker has since been shut down, and they have failed to respond directly to further questions.
However, The Overtake can reveal that the page is run by Maximillian Young, deputy editor at 1828, a neoliberal opinion platform which has links with the Conservative Party and think tank the Adam Smith Institute.
While 1828 denies any formal association with Capitalist Worker, saying only that they have “shared values”, our investigation found Young’s details were used to register the page.
It is unclear which companies or individuals have donated the £14,000 spent so far on Facebook ads — a significant sum considering the Conservative Party page itself spent only £46,200 in a similar timeframe.
The Capitalist Worker Facebook page was set up on 4 November this year and currently has just short of 1,000 likes. A Capitalist Worker YouTube account has no subscribers and has received a total of 65 views at time of writing, and on Twitter @Capitalistworkr has just over 150 followers.
While 1828 denies the links, it was one of the first accounts to follow @CapitalistWorkr, as was Jack Powell, founder and editor of 1828.
Journalist and conservative activist Toby Young was also among the first few followers of the Twitter account.
Powell said: “As you know, Max Young, our Deputy Editor, helps out at the Capitalist Worker.
“We have no knowledge of how other organisations are funded. 1828 is funded by private donations from people who share our values, but we don’t disclose them – much like other organisations, due to the harassment they might receive from left-wing organisations.”
All non-party campaign groups which have spent or anticipate spending more than £20,000 (or £10,000 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) must register with the Electoral Commission.
Conrad Young and Brian Monteith are also named as “relevant participators” on Capitalist Worker’s entry on the Electoral Commission’s website.
Monteith is currently a Brexit Party MEP for North East, but was formerly a Conservative MSP.
There has been significant coverage of the wider issue of non-party campaign groups spending large sums on Facebook ads, mostly attacking Labour. In many cases, the figures behind these groups have strong links with the Conservative Party. The Fair Tax Campaign, run by a former aide to Boris Johnson, has spent more than £18,000 on Facebook ads, and Conservative Councillor Suraj Sharma has spent more than £23,000 through his page, Working4UK.
Facebook and the Brexit Party have been contacted for a response.
Ethan Shone 5th December 2019