The Labour and Nationalist parties are flooding the internet with up to €240,000 worth of political advertising between them on an average week during the election campaign.
So, if you feel like you can hardly watch a YouTube video or scroll through a website or social media platform without stumbling across Maltese political propaganda, there’s a good reason for it.
According to internet megalith Google, the PL and PN have both been on a wild spending spree, targeting Malta’s digital space with political advertising during the first half of the election campaign.
The latest version of Google’s advertising transparency report shows the PN had been spending around €200 every week on online adverts marked as ‘political’ before the announcement of the 2022 election. That climbed gradually, reaching more than €34,000 by February 20 – the day Labour leader Robert Abela fired the starting pistol on the race.
After the announcement, the PN’s spend on political Google ads soared, reaching €88,350 for the week starting February 27.
The latest date, March 6, has the PN spending just over €60,200 on political Google ads in seven days.
The Labour Party, meanwhile, had been registering almost no political advertising with Google prior to the announcement of the general election.
By February 20, Labour had gone from running no political advertising with Google to spending €17,250 in just one week.
The following week, the spend more than doubled to €42,600.
The latest figures have Labour almost doubling their splurge on political Google ads yet again, reaching €76,050 a week by March 6.
Google is not the only online entity keeping track.
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp
According to social media giant Meta, the group which includes Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, Malta’s political parties have no problem spending big here either.
The administrators of the PL’s Partit Laburista Facebook page spent €17,000 in the week starting March 10.
That same week €21,820 worth of political advertising was purchased for the Robert Abela social media accounts.
The PN spent €20,000 on Facebook ads for its Partit Nazzjonalista account in the week of March 10. It says it spent another €23,541 on ads for its Bernard Grech page.
The combined spend on adverts across these channels adds up to about €240,000 in just one week.
Rules on political advertising
Political advertising, particularly in the digital space, is a thorny subject.
In recent years, several governments and election watchdogs have raised the alarm over the use of targeted online advertising and covertly funded disinformation campaigns to sway voting.
In 2018, the British outfit Cambridge Analytica was revealed to have used the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users to build an operation to influence US and UK voters.
Google has strict rules for political advertising meant to limit politicians’ ability to target specific types of voters in the same way businesses do
Russian and Chinese operatives have also been accused of secretly acting online to disrupt politics in western democracies.
Last year, the European Commission announced proposed rules on political ads expected to come into force by 2023.
Social media and digital titans like Google have reacted by rolling out their own rules.
According to Google, in the EU, election ads include those that feature a political party, a current elected officeholder or candidate and even a referendum question up for vote.
Google has strict rules for political advertising meant to limit politicians’ ability to target specific types of voters in the same way businesses do.
Google has been compiling a transparency report on political advertising since 2018.
In that period, Labour purchased 398 ads from the internet giant, spending €159,250.
Interestingly, the PN has registered 277 political adverts with Google over this period. But, while this is around 30 per cent less than Labour, the PN spent about 25 per cent more, racking up a bill of €199,350.