THE battleground of future elections will be fought through social media, a former Welsh MP has said.

Ian Lucas was Wrexham’s Labour MP for 18 years, from 2001 to 2019 when he stood down ahead of the December election of that year.

Since leaving Parliament his book, ‘Digital Gangsters’, about the impact of social media on election results, was published with the former junior minister having developed an interest in the influence of online platforms on democracy.

Before standing down he was part of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal that saw personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users collected without their consent to be used mainly for targeted political advertising.

And Mr Lucas has described how the ability for that information to be used to pepper potential voters with misleading stories and statements on a vast scale through social media can form their opinions.

He claims to have experienced this himself on the doorstep in Wrexham.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said: “One of the things I heard towards the end of my time as an MP was the statement ‘Ian Lucas never does anything for Wrexham’, repeated again and again which, when you are doing as much as you possibly can for your constituents day and night, is incredibly upsetting.

“People used to say to me that I had done everything in my power to stop Brexit, which simply wasn’t true, yet these were words repeated to me in Wrexham on the doorstep which people had taken from platforms such as Facebook and believed.”

Mr Lucas says the rise and influence of social media and its impact on how people consume news now is leaving behind current legislation regarding political campaigning. His postiont is that means information or claims made online are not being checked and challenged as they may be in traditional media.

Videos and content can be produced and circulated on social media platforms without being scrutinised or facing journalistic challenge, making media such as television and radio less appealing to campaign teams.

He said: “People do not now get an impartial perspective on the news they consume.

“Before 2015, the idea of a political candidate turning down a television interview would have been unthinkable.

“Televised interviews used to be very important, but in the run-up to the last election Boris Johnson (the departing Prime Minister) refused to be interviewed by journalist Andrew Neil. Instead, around the same time, a video of him driving a JCB into polystyrene bricks was circulated across social media and this was reaching more voters.

“I am in no doubt the next election will be hard fought on social media.”

Unlike the US, Britain has laws regarding party political advertising in the run-up to elections, yet social media is not covered as tightly as traditional media by this legislation and is something Mr Lucas feels needs to be scrutinised.

He added: “The landscape has changed dramatically in such a short space of time. I’ve been in politics since the mid-1980’s and until 2015 you campaigned in the same way as you had always done.

“The laws haven’t changed since before Facebook was invented, yet the medium of choice in politics is now social media advertising.

“I used Facebook myself in the run-up to the 2017 General Election, which was a tough election.

“We need financial restrictions to limit the amount of money that can be spent on social media advertising.

“The rules that apply offline in print media should be compulsory for online media too, there needs to be the same rules for both.

“There also needs to be the power to properly scrutinise social media platforms.

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“Rules aren’t enforced online – it is an open field in a way that TV is not, in a way that radio is not, and there has to be the appetite to change that.

“The next election will be very important but the battles are going to be fought with the rules we have at the moment.”

Mr Lucas will be signing copies of his book ‘Digital Gangsters’ at Waterstones in Wrexham on September 17.

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