Report campaign costs on social media separately!

Preliminary reports published before the first round of presidential elections present a step forward towards a more complete picture of election campaigns on the networks, but there is still much room for improvement.

In the 2019 presidential election, the new Rulebook on Financial Reporting of Political Activities applies for the first time, according to which all candidates are required to display the costs of advertising on social networks separately from other costs.

In the European Parliament elections in May 2019, the cost of advertising on social networks was not separate from the other services provided by agencies, so the total cost of campaigns on social networks could neither be determined nor compared with the data from the then-launched social networks’ transparency tools for political advertising (such as Facebook Ad Library or Google Transparency Report).

Preliminary reports published before the first round of presidential elections present a step forward towards a more complete picture of election campaigns on the networks, but there is still much room for improvement. The total cost of the campaign to date on social networks – according to preliminary reports – is just over 100.000 euros. The highest total amount was reported by candidate Zoran Milanovic – 82.600 euros. Unfortunately, the data is difficult to compare with the data published by Facebook and Google, because it is impossible to filter ads by exact date range of the announcement in the Facebook Ad Library. On Google, the database’s report is not completely divided by countries and it is difficult to reach the total amount spent in Croatia during the exact period of the campaign.

Only 5 candidates reported the costs of advertising on social networks. The incumbent President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic did not report social network advertising spending in the “cost category” but in the “media advertising category” (12.472 euro paid to Google), which means that we have less information on the cost (for example, missing the advertising period). Also, although Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s ads during the campaign (around 12.000 euro from December 8 to December 14) appear in Facebook’s Ad Library, they have not yet been reported. A candidate Miroslav Skoro also did not report advertising on Facebook, and Ad Library shows that he spent more than 2.500 euros in the period from December 8 to December 14 only.

Additionally, although there is a field in the Reporting form for “Social Network Name” and all networks can be listed separately, most of the candidates aggregated networks so it impossible to determine how much money had gone to which company (advertisements were run on Facebook, Instagram, Google, and in Twitter on smaller-scale) and this data cannot be compared to data published by the social networks and digital platforms themselves.

Also, Twitter has banned political advertising since November 22. Candidate Katarina Peovic was the only one to pay for the ad on Twitter. But as the costs were summarized under the category “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter” and the period of advertising was stated as November 7 to December 20, it is not possible to determine exactly when the ad was active on Twitter. According to information currently available on the Twitter Transparency Center, Katarina Peovic has not advertised on Twitter for the past seven days. Considering that the candidate reported 4.050 euro as the total cost on all social networks and spent most of her money on Facebook, it is clear that she spent a small amount on Twitter ads. Certainly, these dilemmas would not exist if the networks had been listed separately in the preliminary report.

Although candidate Mislav Kolakusic has reported that he did not have any spending during the campaign so far, a political advertisement was paid by the Member of Parliament Ivan Lovrinovic in which he calls for a vote for Kolakusic. It is a single advertisement and under 100 euros but it raises the issue of so-called third parties contributing to the campaign (outside the common donation activities) which is not legally regulated in Croatia.

All information from the preliminary financial statements on donors, expenses and media discounts in the presidential campaign is available in Gong’s searchable database. Find an interactive visualization of the preliminary reports HERE.

*This report has been produced with the financial assistance of NEF-Civitates. The report is based on a DRI outline. The contents of this report are the sole responsibility of the Gong and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of NEF-Civitates.