BILLBOARDS and pamphlets have made way for digital advertising as political parties turn to social media platforms to get their messages across.

Data gathered by volunteers at the website Who Targets Me and the Bureau Local, part of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, show political adverts in Scotland have been targeted at specific Facebook users – so-called “dark ads”, which tailor messages to certain audiences.

Ads from the LibDems and the SNP have focussed on pensions, while Labour and the Tories targeted Facebook users in their key target seats.

The attraction of Facebook is obvious – it is a goldmine of personal data. The platform has an estimated 32 million users in the UK, many of whom will specify their age, gender, ethnicity and where they live, as well as their interests and affiliations.

Political parties spent a total of £1.3m on targeted Facebook advertising in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, according to the Electoral Commission.

In Scotland the SNP spent £5466, the Tory and Labour parties £29,502 and £7153 respectively.

A year later in the Holyrood election, overall spending on Facebook ads increased by a third in Scotland.

Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s information commissioner, last month launched an investigation into political adverts on social media and the “potential impact they have on an individual’s privacy”.

Who Targets Me is planning to do further work with the London School of Economics (LSE) and investigative journalists to understand more about digital campaigning.

Jimmy Tidey, one of the people behind Who Targets Me said that as predicted, it had seen a big increase in the amount of Facebook campaigning from all parties.

Writing on his blog, he said it was also clear that all sides are devoting “considerable resources” to targeting adverts.

“Just after we launched Who Targets Me, I did an interview on the BBC Media Show. They asked me if our project was going to be important in an election where everyone knew that Theresa May would win.

“I answered that it was still important to understand the campaign because it would draw attention to the need for better regulation – and if Facebook ads weren’t going to tip the balance this time, they might be decisive at the next election.

“Things have changed – no one is quite so sure about what the outcome will be now. On Friday morning we can stop guessing.

“Who Targets Me will enter a whole new phase of work with LSE, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and others to understand exactly what happened and to keep up pressure for more transparency in digital election campaigning.”