Analysis Exclusive

Exclusive: FB group claiming to be ‘Liverpool citizens’ for O’Byrne for mayor placed PAID ads registered to her home address

Series of paid ads from supposedly independent group raises more questions candidate has not answered – and potential GDPR issues

Ten paid adverts placed by a Facebook group declaring that it consists of ‘Liverpool citizens’ backing Councillor Ann O’Byrne, the city’s former Cabinet member for housing, to be Labour’s candidate in May’s Liverpool mayoral election have been linked to Cllr O’Byrne’s home address, raising concerns of transparency and potential ‘GDPR’ data protection issues.

The paid Facebook ads, which appear to have been seen by significant numbers of Labour members in the city, seem to have been tightly targeted – costing only £27.70 per ad on average – and were placed by a small Merseyside ‘digital marketing’ firm:

However, while the group is presented as set up by ‘Liverpool citizens’ eager for O’Byrne to become the city’s mayor, the details Facebook provides on the ten ads as part of its transparency policies show that the ads are registered to the councillor’s own personal address:

The same address is shown against Councillor O’Byrne’s entry as former director of a number of businesses – and on her own leaflets for her campaign to persuade Labour members to select her:

The SKWAWKBOX contacted the owner of the digital marketing firm, who until recently worked for a local housing association, to ask for clarification of the issues and how she came to be named as the person placing the ads. She claimed that she was “approached by a group of Liverpool Citizens” to place the ads as part of her business and that Ann O’Byrne was not one of the ‘citizens’, but did not answer who the ‘citizens’ were.

She also claimed that the targeting of the ads was broad, for example that an ad on green spaces had been targeted at Facebook users who are ‘interested in parks etc’.

However, when asked to explain why, if she was approached by ‘a group of citizens’, she had registered the Facebook ads to the councillor’s personal home address and why the average spending on each ad was so low, she became non-responsive in the chat facility on her company’s web page.

More questions unanswered

Cllr O’Byrne was contacted directly by SKWAWKBOX and asked to comment on the registration of advertising spending by the ‘citizens’ page to her personal address, the suggestion that this registration linked the page to her rather than it being a ‘citizens’ endeavour and whether she intended to declare the £277 spent on the ten ads as part of her campaign spending. She had not responded by the time of publication, although the approach of publication was stressed.

Cllr O’Byrne’s campaign manifesto promises ‘greater transparency’ and ‘enhanced scrutiny’ if she becomes the city’s mayor.

However, she has also failed to answer questions about her involvement, along with two other councillors involved in her campaign, in a firm that, according to a report provided to the council about its activities:

  • raised cash through car parks without providing receipts for cash in or cash out
  • loaned or invested money in firms linked to its own directors
  • provided £20,000 to an organisation that was used to employ her own daughter
  • reported a car park very close to Liverpool’s football grounds as significantly empty on match days but provided no evidence of cash received
  • reportedly spent almost a quarter of a million pounds on ‘admin’, despite operating largely on a cash basis and failing to maintain proper accounts

Local members have told SKWAWKBOX that the failures to provide answers are at odds with her promise of greater transparency and scrutiny.

The Labour party’s north-west office has been contacted for comment. Candidates do not receive member email addresses in the official dataset they are provided by the party for the selection campaign.

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