The battle to influence the hearts and minds of voters has begun, and the UK’s political generals are readying their digital armies.
That’s how Labour-supporting campaign group Momentum put it on a WhatsApp group when the election was announced, telling activists: “We need the digital army to swing into action straight away.”
Conservative campaign director Isaac Levido had the same message for his troops, urging them over email to “beat Labour on digital”.
For all the parties, the internet – in particular social media – is now a key battleground, with millions of pounds and hours focused on gaining the slightest edge.
And not just the parties.
Six months ago, the government warned that “hostile states, foreign lobbyists and shadowy third parties” could be interfering in UK elections, saying there was an urgent need “to review and refresh our analogue laws for a digital age”.
How many safeguards have been introduced since then? Precisely none, as my colleague Alexander Martin reported yesterday.
Despite repeated warnings from figures across the political spectrum, key election safeguards will not be in place for December.
Instead, Silicon Valley billionaires are setting the rules for UK election campaigns, often at a moment’s notice, as Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey showed last night, when he banned all political advertising on the platform.
All this makes the work of journalism especially important.
That’s why, at Sky News, we’re launching a new project to monitor political activity online during the campaign, called Under the Radar.
We’ll be tracking ads on social media, analysing who spends what and, crucially, how the ads are targeted.
We’ll also be watching the chatter on social media – whether that’s out in the open or in private groups on encrypted platforms.
And we’ll be working with researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue to see if disinformation or other malign activity surfaces during the campaign.
We’ll be using old-fashioned reporting to uncover data-gathering techniques and digital infrastructure used by political actors – like our story on the Liberal Democrats’ 42 scores for voters, or Labour’s decision to stop targeting voters by ethnicity.
And we’ll be asking the big question: what is technology doing to democracy? And can our politics survive the digital transformation?
We’ll try to cut through the noise and give you the clearest picture – and who’s behind it.
We hope you’ll follow along on all our platforms. If you see anything we should be investigating, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Under the Radar is a Sky News project to investigate online political activity throughout the election, from targeted ads to disinformation