Influence government: Targeted advertising in PREVENT, criminal justice and beyond

Speakers: Dr Ben Collier, University of Edinburgh and Dr Daniel Thomas, University of Strathclyde

Chaired by TBC

We have identified an emerging tool being used by the UK government across a range of bodies in the service of public policy – the online ad targeting infrastructure, and the practices, consultancy firms, and forms of expertise which have grown up around it. Our initial explorations involved the use of these tools by the National Crime Agency through PREVENT (which has now spread far beyond its initial roots in counter-radicalisation), in which the NCA has intimately linked its enforcement practices, information gathering, and the tailoring and targeting of messaging.

However our research suggests much broader use is becoming common across government. This has fused the behaviourist policies associated with contemporary UK governance with the powerful tools for behaviour change created by the platform economy. Beyond the use of algorithms for sorting, surveilling, and scoring, this suggests that targeted interventions in the cultural life of communities are now a core part of governmental power which is being algorithmically-driven. This paper begins to map some of these uses and practices, developing a theoretical argument and ethical critique of what this means for the exercise of governmental power in the contemporary UK.