What makes online political ads unacceptable? Interrogating public attitudes to inform regulatory responses


Online political advertising is often portrayed in a negative light, yet there is limited evidence about what exactly the public deems unacceptable about it. This paper provides new insights into public attitudes through an online survey where 1,881 respondents evaluated all political ads placed on Facebook during the 2019 UK General Election. We find that citizens do not inherently think political ads are problematic. Examining two possible regulatory responses, first, we find that compliance with existing regulatory protocols for non-political advertising is a strong predictor of political ad acceptability, suggesting a case for extending the existing regulatory regime to include political ads. We also find that people had particular concerns about the content and tone of unacceptable ads, highlighting the value of codes of conduct to promote good practice. Overall, this paper offers a nuanced account of attitudes towards online political advertising and identifies possible pathways for regulatory reform.



Comments are not moderated before they are posted, but they can be removed by the site moderators if they are found to be in contravention of our Commenting and Discussion Policy [opens in a new tab] – please read this policy before you post. Comments should be used for scholarly discussion of the content in question. You can find more information about how to use the commenting feature here [opens in a new tab] .