A coalition of 29 civil society organisations and experts has published a joint statement calling for universal advertising transparency by default, as a prerequisite for any measures dealing with online political ads. At a time when the European Commission is drafting new policies and laws to regulate social media giants like Facebook to limit their harmful impact on democracy, civil society organisations stress that meaningful transparency is the necessary foundation of any regulation.
The lack of transparency around political ads – which ads are shown to whom, why, and who has paid for them – has led to a situation where anyone – including firms like Cambridge Analytica – can distort political debate and easily evade public interest scrutiny. While the big social media platforms committed to provide more transparency under the EU Code of Practice against Disinformation with political advertising libraries, these failed to include important information like targeting criteria, for instance, and included many false positives and false negatives.
As the statement argues, “In a situation where it is difficult to police the labelling of political ads, it is ultimately necessary to ensure the transparency of all ads.” In order to allow for public interest scrutiny and overcome the divergence between Member States’ definitions of political ads, meaningful public information on all ads – including targeting criteria, exact spend and advertiser information – is necessary.
The civil society coalition has sent the statement to European Commission Vice President Jourova and Commissioner Breton, to discuss how the various recommendations fit within the upcoming Digital Services Act package and the European Democracy Action Plan – both expected in late 2020. As EU Member States are looking to the EU for guidance on how to deal with online political advertising and disinformation, it will be essential that the European Commission sets the right tone with an ambitious, rights-based approach.
The civil society coalition consists of 29 democracy and human rights organisations, under the coordination of the European Partnership for Democracy. Signatories are listed below.
Access Now, Algorithm Watch, AMO – Association for International Affairs, Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Defend Democracy, ePanstwo Foundation, EU Disinfolab, European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA), European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), European Digital Rights (EDRi), European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), European Women’s Lobby, Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), Global Witness, Homo Digitalis, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Lie Detectors, Oana Goga (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique — CNRS), Open Rights Group, Panoptykon Foundation, Privacy International, Ranking Digital Rights, Rights International Spain, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (SNV), The Democratic Society Transparency International, Vrijschrift, Who Targets Me and World Leadership Alliance – Club de Madrid.