The Victorian Labor party spent more than $115,000 on a Facebook page under the name of the Liberal leader, Matthew Guy, to boost paid ads attacking his policies and record in government, before deleting the page just a week out from election day.
The circumstances behind the deletion of the page – which was the second-biggest political advertiser on all of Australian Facebook in the past month – are unclear.
But it was just part of Labor’s social media campaign, which is vastly larger and more sophisticated than of its Liberal opponents. The government has outspent the opposition by up to three times, and is running far more highly targeted ads on the platform.
“Every advertising dollar that’s been spent has been thought out, intentional and considered,” a Labor campaign headquarters insider told Guardian Australia.
Labor has branded Guy “the Liberal cuts guy” in much of its advertising, criticising opposition election policies and decisions he made in government. A website expanding on those messages, thecutsguy.com, carries only a small Labor authorisation message.
An accompanying Facebook page, titled Matthew Guy – The Liberal Cuts Guy, began posting ads on 31 October. By 15 November the page had spent $115,893 to boost 1,146 ads, according to Facebook ad library data that showed they were paid for by Victorian Labor.
The page itself, as well as its ads, also carried authorisation messages on behalf of Victorian Labor.
The page boosted 19 types of ads, all critical of Guy personally.
“The Liberals sacked Matthew Guy after he lost the last election. Now he’s back and so are his plans for cuts,” read one ad, with a link to the “Cuts Guy” website.
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In the past 30 days on Facebook, only one political advertiser in the country spent more money on political ads than the page. That was Victorian Labor’s main page, with $237,055 spent. All in all, taking in ads from the page of the premier, Daniel Andrews, Labor has spent at least $393,849 in a month.
That compares to about $118,000 spent in ads from the Liberal’s main page ($72,000) and Guy’s official Facebook page ($46,335) in the same period.
But by Thursday the “Cuts Guy” page disappeared. Facebook’s ad library reported the page “has been unpublished or deleted”.
Guardian Australia asked the Victorian Labor party if it had voluntarily removed the page, or if it had been deleted by Facebook. No response was received by publication time.
Facebook, the Victorian Electoral Commission and the Victorian Liberals were also contacted for comment.
Daniel Andrews himself is arguably the most successful social media user in Australian politics, with 1 million followers on Facebook – outnumbering the prime minister, Anthony Albanese (324,000), and his predecessor, Scott Morrison (781,000), as well as his counterparts in NSW (38,000) and Queensland (342,000).
Andrews’ success in building an online following is attributed to him being an early adopter of social media. His director of media, Sabina Husic, is credited with driving his successful following during his first term in office, creating shareable content linked to pop-culture and trending joke formats, and establishing a clear voice and personal narrative.
The cadence to his posts during the pandemic led to an entire Facebook group dedicated to mimicking his updates.
The premier has also been known to bypass media – including its scrutiny – in favour of making announcements on social media. The multibillion-dollar, 90km underground Suburban Rail Loop was unveiled on Facebook via a slick promotional video with a dramatic soundtrack.
The usual unit of four people in the premier’s team who work on his social media had grown during the election, a Labor HQ insider said, though they wouldn’t reveal by how many.
They said the campaign’s media focus had largely been on TV, social and online media, rather than “traditional media” such as newspapers and radio, where Andrews has had a long-running feud with 3AW host Neil Mitchell and News Corp’s Herald Sun.