Wednesday

14th Apr 2021

EU want Facebook pan-EU advert fix for May elections

  • Facebook's transparency rules on political ads actually restrict pan-European campaigning (Photo: Anthony Quintano)

The EU institutions and pan-European political groups are demanding Facebook tweak its transparency rules in order to carry out continent-wide election and awareness campaigns, ahead of the May elections.

With European tech unable to offer any meaningful alternative to challenge Facebook's dominance, pan-European political groups are forced to use its services.

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Earlier this year, a UK parliament inquiry report described Facebook as a 'digital gangster' in its role in the UK referendum to leave the European Union. The firm has lobbied to undermine privacy regulation, according to documents obtained by pro-transparency NGO, Corporate Europe Observatory.

Asked if it was healthy and vibrant for European democracy to rely so heavily on its platform, a commission spokeswoman said Facebook was just another channel among others.

"They are one of the channels that we rely on, at the same time we expect these major players to play by the rules that we very much shape and set," she told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (23 April).

New Facebook rules require political advertisers to register in the country where they target campaigns. The rules are meant to thwart foreign election meddling.

But not everyone is happy.

Last week, the secretary-generals of the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, sent Facebook a joint letter.

They want it to exempt the EU institutions and pan-European political groups from the national registration requirements given such rules would "hinder the exercise of EU electoral rights."

Facebook, although open to the suggestion, has yet to implement their demands.

"We have seen the announcements and some movement in the press that we are welcoming but we still need to see all this material," said the commission spokeswoman.

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, had since received a letter from Facebook on possible ways forward.

The Facebook letter said the company was "exploring whether we can technically build tools that would allow authorised administrators of the 19 institutional pages we identified to target ads to people right across the EU".

The issue comes amid the monthly publication of a European commission report gauging voluntary commitments by social media giants including Google and Twitter to fight disinformation.

Facebook is said to have improved ad transparency, after having rolled out its publicly-available Ad Library globally in late March.

However, the commission also says Facebook, Twitter and Google needs to improve when it comes to allowing third-party experts, fact-checkers and researchers to carry out independent evaluations on fake accounts.

"At the same time, it is regrettable that Google and Twitter have not yet reported further progress regarding transparency of issue-based advertising, meaning issues that are sources of important debate during elections," it said in a statement.

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