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5 things to know about European political advertising rules – POLITICO

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Brussels targets political ads.

The European Commission will announce new proposals on Thursday to force Facebook, Google and dozens of local political parties to publish details of how they target voters with paid messages, or face potential large fines, two officials say . and a draft regulation obtained by POLITICO.

As part of the new efforts – tied to separate rules known as the Digital Services Act, which will control content and products more broadly on the internet – the world’s largest social media companies will need to crack down on group use. policies of these platforms to locate messages. to online users based on sensitive data such as gender or sexual orientation.

Micro-targeting, or the ability for a small number of people to be targeted with specific advertisements, will not be prohibited. But European Union officials hope the new proposals will protect bloc democracies from the worst social media abuses, including foreign governments using political advertising to sow dissent and mistrust among local voters. The proposals are expected to make it harder for social media platforms and political actors to use complex tools, often driven by artificial intelligence, to sprinkle people with partisan messages ahead of elections.

“I am truly convinced that micro-targeting, based on race, religion, sexual orientation and several other sensitive data, data gains should be prohibited,” said European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová , which will announce the proposals, at the European Business Summit last week. .

The rules have yet to be approved by the European Parliament and EU member countries, with final proposals due to become law before the next European Parliament elections in 2024.

Still, the upcoming announcement marks Brussels’ latest foray into the digital world, along with overhauled competition proposals known as the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act that will be approved by EU member countries on. November 25.

Here’s all you need to know.

Voters likely won’t see a difference

Brussels wants to ban the most egregious uses of political ads, but those paid posts will still appear in people’s social media feeds.

EU officials have not categorically banned such announcements, so in the run-up to national elections – as in France next year and ahead of the 2024 European Parliament elections – political groups and cabinets Third-party lobbyists will still be able to purchase social media content targeting potential supporters.

Focusing on political advertisements (as the Digital Services Act examines online content more broadly, including illegal material and disinformation), experts also warn that EU citizens may still be sensitive to Partisan posts appearing organically in their feeds. This unpaid material is outside the scope of the new proposals.

New obligations for Big Tech

Facebook, Google and their peers will face new transparency requirements, including mandatory disclosure of advertisements purchased by political parties, activists and other third-party groups. Companies already voluntarily provide this information via searchable online databases, although the Commission proposals make these systems mandatory.

The type of information that would be disclosed includes the amount spent on particular political ads, how they are amplified and shared, and what data is used to identify potential supporters online. Companies will also need to conduct publicly available assessments of the impact of targeting political ads on elections in specific countries, as well as describe how political groups use their networks to speak directly with voters.

A major new restriction will be the ban on using so-called sensitive data like a person’s political or religious beliefs to target them with political ads online throughout the year. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced on November 9 that it would end the practice, although groups can still target people with ads through other targeting tools, including uploading e-mail addresses. -mail or the use of the location of people.

Political parties are also supported

Groups like the European People’s Party, Renew Europe and other cross-border EU political groups will also face a closer look at how they target Europeans with political ads. This includes requirements to publicly disclose the data they use to locate voters online, restrictions on micro-targeting practices, and requirements to make public any political ads they run across the bloc.

Many political groups rely heavily on social media advertising, but they faced difficulties ahead of the 2019 European parliamentary elections due to restrictions imposed by social media companies preventing political groups from an EU country to buy advertisements running in another.

These issues were subsequently resolved. Still, members of the European Parliament disagree on pursuing greater restrictions on online advertising, both through these new proposals and the Digital Services Act. They now have the opportunity to speak out on how their own political groups might be crippled by buying paid posts across the bloc.

Fight forward: it’s all in the definitions

The Commission decided to create a single definition of what constitutes political advertising. This includes messages from politicians and political groups, as well as thematic advertisements related to specific legislation or elections.

Countries like Hungary and Poland, however, which are already angry with Brussels over perceived interference in their domestic politics, are unlikely to allow the EU to decide what constitutes political publicity at the national level. – although campaigners warn that an EU-wide definition is crucial to prevent some governments from unfairly cracking down on paid posts criticizing a country’s current political leadership. However, it will be up to national regulators to apply the new political advertising rules.

What happens in Europe does not stay in Europe

EU officials hope the new political advertising proposals will boost efforts in other jurisdictions to similarly prevent paid blackout messages from spreading like wildfire ahead of national elections.

Ahead of last year’s presidential election in the United States, Facebook and Google blocked political ads from showing, although the ban only lasted for a few months. Other countries, including Brazil and India, have also been the subject of coordinated political advertising campaigns targeting voters, often in a confrontational manner.

If Brussels can enforce these rules – including mandatory disclosures of how people are targeted online and an outright ban on the use of sensitive data in these online political campaigns – other countries could try to Build on these efforts, as they too attempt to tackle online bigotry often fueled by digital political ads.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to clarify that the new rules are expected as of Thursday.

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