Labor and Liberal parties criticised for running WA election online ads without disclosing links – ABC News

Posted: March 9, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Both major political parties have been criticised for running online advertisements which direct users to websites to find out where they can vote early in the WA election, without disclosing their links to either site.

An ad for the website VoteWA.com.au appears as the first or second result under a number of Google searches, including "vote early Perth".

A similar ad for WhereCanIVote.org.au appears on some searches, including "vote early Liberal WA".

VoteWA.com.au is run by WA Labor and WhereCanIVote.org.au was setup by the Liberals.

In some cases, the websites appear above links to official pages run by the WA Electoral Commission (WAEC).

In both instances, it is not until users are on the websites that they are presented with a small disclosure at the bottom of the pages revealing the sites' owners.

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WhereCanIVote.org.au also contains the Liberal Party's logo as the site's icon.

It comes as a record number of Western Australians vote early, with the WAEC reporting yesterday that about one in five electors, or 343,796, had already cast their ballot.

VoteWA website

That is compared to the 214,242 people who voted early in the 2017 state election.

It is not suggested that either party is breaking WA's electoral laws or regulations.

Once on the VoteWA.com.au site, users are asked to enter their home address, which the site uses to display a page showing their nearest early voting centre and a photo of Mark McGowan with their electorate's Labor candidate.

Further down the page, alongside how to vote cards, are options for users to have "free directions" sent to their mobile phone or email address.

The politics, the policies and the people. We've collected all our coverage on the election campaign here.

Both require the user to enter their first and last names to receive the instructions.

A link to WA Labor's privacy policy, which was until last week only accessible from the site after entering an address, states any information provided to the party "will only be used for the purpose for which it was provided".

WA Labor did not directly answer questions from the ABC about how the website collected data, or about its failure to disclose the ownership of the site in Google ads.

"The VoteWA.com.au website is an easy way for people to access how to vote material for WA Labor candidates, and to find their nearest early voting centre," a party spokesperson said.

Similarly, the WhereCanIVote.org.au website asks users to enter their postcode, which it uses to display their Liberal candidate, as well as polling places open before and on election day.

There is also an option to download a how-to-vote card, which is the first time the Liberal Party logo clearly appears in any of the site's content.

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In response to questions from the ABC, a Liberal Party campaign spokesperson said the site did not track the postcodes entered by users.

"The website WhereCanIVote.org.au is provided as a service to electors to assist them in finding local polling places and Liberal candidates," they said.

"It is authorised in accordance with electoral laws."

The websites have raised the eyebrows of internet and political experts, who said their links to their respective parties should be made more clear.

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"These purport to show how-to-vote sites, which look like public utilities, but they're actually effectively advertising websites for the state political parties," professor of internet studies Tama Leaver said.

"It really wouldn't be difficult to make it clearer on either page that this is a website designed and run by a political party.

"I think it would do a great deal for peoples' trust in political parties if they were more upfront with what they were doing."

Mr Leaver said the situation was another example of why WA needed to better regulate internet advertising during elections.

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"I think both parties are being as transparent as currently required by law and not a single step further," he said.

"We've got incredibly clear rules around when you can and can't advertise in print and on television, we've got quite clear rules about what you can and can't say and how much you need to disclose.

"Tightening up political advertising regulations so that it clearly applies online and clearly applies to social media would certainly make it a more transparent, and a more democratic system."

Political analyst Peter Kennedy agreed that while the websites appeared to comply with WA's Electoral Act, their affiliations could have been more obvious.

Google

He said the parties would not have created the websites unless they believed they could affect how individual voters might cast their ballot.

"They might be influenced by a party's how-to-vote card, or they could ignore it," he said.

"The political parties do it because they think their might be an advantage in it, and there may well be some political advantage.

"I don't think it would be a very marked advantage though."

If you're still having trouble picking who to vote for, check out our quick 5-minute guide to what all the parties in the WA election actually stand for.

Data from Google reveals the WA Liberals have spent $33,450 on political advertising since the middle of November last year, making them the highest-spending organisation in the nation among those listed.

That accounts for more than half of the total amount spent on political advertising through Google and its other services, including YouTube, over that period.

Most of it has been spent on ads since February 7 around $20,000.

The WA Greens spent the second highest amount, forking out $23,700 for their ads.

WA Labor does not appear in the data.

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Labor and Liberal parties criticised for running WA election online ads without disclosing links - ABC News

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