THOUSANDS of people have signed an online open letter urging internet social media giants to implement a moratorium on political advertising until after next month’s General Election.

The not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation launched the call to ban advertising during the pre-election purdah period to “persuade decision makers at Facebook and Google to do the right thing and help protect our democracy”.

It said: “It’s become increasingly clear that the UK doesn’t have the laws in place to properly oversee online political advertising right now, and that Google and Facebook don’t have the policies in place to establish trust in the political ads you see on their platforms.

“Those issues will take time to resolve, and we don’t have that time.”

Mozilla has joined forces with the Open Data Institute, Demos, the University of Sheffield, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and others in penning the open letter.

“We’re at a historic point in time. We don’t want tech to ‘move fast and break things’, we want tech to put a brake on what we’re seeing online before more things – including our parliamentary democracy – is broken for good.”

It said the moratorium was not about a permanent ban on political and issue-based advertising, but on the online advertising model, “which depends on vast collection of data and opaque ad targeting systems”, and which is not fit for purpose.

Fundamentally, the model undermined trust in political advertising and this request was to take temporary, emergency measures to ensure the platforms were not complicit in exploiting electoral laws which MPs themselves had described as “unfit for purpose”.

The letter, addressed to Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg, at Facebook, and Sundar Pichai and Kent Walker, from Google, reads: “We write today as a group of researchers, technologists, digital rights defenders, and Internet users concerned about online political advertising in the context of the upcoming national election in the United Kingdom.

“It is promising that you’re calling for regulation on your platforms. The UK Electoral Commission, Information Commissioner and the cross-party [Department for Culture, Media and Sport] DCMS Select Committee are also calling for urgent legislative action to help address the issue of political ads.”

However, it said that with the election only weeks away, there was no time for regulations to catch up.

“This legislative blackspot is particularly concerning in light of Facebook’s recent policies to allow politicians to openly publish disinformation through ads.

“Equally concerning is the lack of transparency as to what data is being used to target ads, and how such ads are being targeted.

“We are aware that these policies are subject to debate both inside and outside the company. While that debate continues, people in the UK are left in uncertainty about whether they can trust what they see on the platform.”

The authors said a moratorium was not without precedent, and cites last year’s Irish referendum on abortion rights and the Israeli and Canadian elections.

“Blocking political and issue-based ads is not a long-term solution, and we recognise that this measure may impact the much-needed voices of smaller campaign groups.

“But in the UK context, with dated electoral law and a lack of implementation of existing data protection laws, coupled with your platform’s failures to sufficiently address the concerns raised, in this instance, it’s a necessary trade-off.”