The below tweet popped into my feed today, it details how 12 supposedly different independent “grassroots” pages all sent the same post at the same time. This is important as what I term “clandestine cluster campaigning” will be of real importance during the 2019 General Election
The clandestine use of satellite pages to mass communicate in unison the same or similar messages of one controlling force is something that will occur. It will happen via what are currently discernible as two sources. Other sources are likely as only recently were supposedly grassroots/fan pages found to be clandestinely organised.
Firstly pro-remain pages are seeing central organisation, with local grassroots pages now professionalised. In this news report Sky News assert that Scientists for EU “has set up a Social Media Intelligence Unit to support for Europe Facebook pages”. The group injected more than £100,000 on “what its founder, Mike Galsworthy, calls professionalisation”. Originally truly grassroots local Facebook pages, such as Norfolk for Europe or Swansea for Europe run by activists (116 in total), are now coordinated by a well-resourced group. These pages will be campaigning tactically during the 2019 General Election campaign. This is important as John Curtice asserts that 100 MPs from neither Labour or Conservatives are likely to be elected, with remain sentiment still electoral dynamite.
As Sky state – “Since February 2019, when it began supporting the local pages, Scientists for EU has spent around £80,000 on Facebook ads promoting local pages. According to internal Scientists for EU briefing documents seen by Sky News, this advertising push brought 278,000 new followers to the network, an increase of 115% in seven months”.
This clandestine professionalisation will make a marked effect on the Facebook information space.
For the leave side, it has been reported in the Guardian that Lynton Crosby’s CTF Partners has also been engaging in the practice but at a far more nefarious level.
As the Guardian reports “a series of hugely influential Facebook advertising campaigns that appear to be separate grassroots movements for a no-deal Brexit are secretly overseen by employees of Sir Lynton Crosby’s lobbying company… almost all the major pro-Brexit Facebook “grassroots” advertising campaigns in the UK share the same page admins or advertisers”. These pages will rally to support the Conservatives campaign, using organic reach and targeted advertising to hammer key points to Brexit Party waverers.
Overall campaigns via Facebook are fracturing and becoming harder to analyse. With the brands and partisan connections of the parties in decline, satellite pages offer a solution. The clandestine use of satellite pages via cluster campaigning throws up new questions in how parties are using Facebook and where the influence on social media occurs from. These satellite pages have been supercharged, with it clear that this election will not just be dominated by wider political discourse. Instead General Election 2019 will be heavily influenced by the 3 year permanent Brexit campaign that has been rumbling on unabated. During this time hundreds of pages have grown and a whole Facebook ecosystem is waiting to be electorally activated.
As is common parlance ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts‘ – these small satellite pages conjoined together will make a big impact.