Recent elections have shown that likes and shares on social media giant Facebook are now translating into votes for political parties at an increasing rate.
But while Facebook is "one of the, if not the most important channel" of the media, there are "massive question marks" about the transparency of political parties' and campaign groups' use of it, Carl Miller, research director at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at thinktank Demos, told CNBC via telephone. Miller argued that governments need to regulate political parties' use of Facebook and make transparent their spending on the platform.
Social media as an increasingly effective tool for mobilizing the masses has already caught the attention of regulators. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, head of the U.K.'s independent authority on public information, wrote in a blog post in May this year that a formal investigation was opening up into "the use of data analytics for political purposes." While the post, like much official material, referred to social media with a broad brush, it is widely accepted that Facebook is the most influential. The investigation chiefly concerns campaigning ahead of the Brexit referendum in June 2016, but "potentially also ... other campaigns."
Effective use of social media helped transform the fate of the underdog U.K. Labour party in the General Election earlier this month. An uplifting campaign, which encouraged legions of young voters to head to the polls, meant that the party added 33 parliamentary seats to its total and helped to erase the majority held by the incumbent Conservative Party.
Facebook's potential power over elections lies in its ability to enable political parties and campaign groups to specifically target individuals with advertising. Users are confronted with a closed circle of information, one that is uniquely geared to influence them in a less publicly accepted way than newspapers and television channels.