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EU faces challenge over political advertising ban

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-09 09:33

European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters. [Photo/Agencies]

The European Parliament is facing a challenge to its proposed ban on personally targeted online political advertising, also known as microtargeting.

A senior European Union official has rejected calls for a complete ban, arguing that it could block political parties from using internet campaigning entirely, reported the Financial Times.

"We should enable the online space to be used for political ads; if we ban microtargeting, the marketing method will not be possible to use," said Vera Jourova, the European Commission's vice-president for values and transparency.

In an interview with the FT, Jourova said stricter transparency would be sufficient and that some microtargeting should still be allowed, but cautioned that it would be dangerous to allow voters to select which advertisements they saw.

"I am not here to help the platforms to do business," she said. "But also I don't think I am here to make it impossible-especially when the political parties and political actors need the online space."

The lack of regulation addressing online political advertising with the potential to undermine the integrity of electoral processes has been a cause of concern for the bloc, said the FT, which noted that microtargeting practices were deployed during the 2016 Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and in the United States presidential election.

The EU is seeking to control disinformation and make elections fairer. In 2018, it created legislation, the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, which sought to stimulate companies to collaborate on solutions.

Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter agreed to commit to this code, and have since expanded their fact-checking tools and misinformation labels.

But inconsistencies in the companies' approach resulted in a lack of transparency and understanding of political and issue-based advertising online in election campaigns, according to a report from Dublin City University's Institute for Future Media and Journalism.

Updates to the code in 2022 mean companies must develop clear labels on political or "issue-based" adverts that remain when users share them.

Now, the EU wants more regulation of political parties' capacity to aim their communications at individual voters, with a total ban on online political advertisements that are targeted on the basis of individual tracking and personal profiles.

The FT quoted Paul Tang, a Dutch socialist member of the European Parliament, who backs the ban on microtargeting. He said: "The main question is not advertisement effectiveness, but fair elections. That requires blocking the manipulation of voters. .. and equal access to information for all voters.. . transparency is not enough to secure fair elections."

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