More transparency for political advertising: My Committee opinion was adopted
Monday evening (18.10.2022), the Constitutional Affairs committee adopted its opinion for more transparency for political advertising. My final draft was adopted with 22 yes against 6 no. Christian-Democrats sided with MEPs of the extreme right, trying – without success – to delete key transparency clauses.
Why do we need this? – Stopping the Kremlin and super-rich from buying into European elections with hundreds of millions of Euros
The US government recently warned of 300 million Euros from Russia used to financing and influencing right-wing extremist parties in the EU. For the German extreme right-wing AfD party, unclear sources have funded several big campaigns, circumventing transparency obligations for party financing. The Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed how extremely targeted online advertisements in filter-bubbles with divisive messages helped swing the Brexit referendum in the UK and the US presidential election 2016 in favour of Donald Trump. Money must not have more weight than better arguments in public discourse!
What did the Commission propose?
Providers of political advertising services must disclose the identity and the amounts paid for advertisements or whole campaigns, online and offline. Providers can publish advertisements only once they fulfill all transparency obligations, otherwise they would face fines. Providers are to retain this information for up to a year and publish it on request. Very large online platforms such as Google, Facebook, YouTube shall publish their own repositories listing.
What key amendments did AFCO adopt: a single European repository and randomized advertisements breaking the filter bubble
Instead of transparency distributed over hundreds of advertisement libraries (repositories) by individual providers, some public, some on request, we ask to set up a Single European political advertising repository and oblige all providers to feed their information into it. This way, researchers, journalists and interested citizens will find all information in one place. We specify that all targeting criteria must become transparent, not just few as foreseen so far. And similar to political party advertisements on TV and radio, we propose to oblige very large online platforms to show randomized advertisements to their users at the price of their own cost. This way, filter bubbles are opened and voters gain a broader picture before making their choice.
What the vote foretells: Christian-Democrats and Liberals vulnerable to heavy lobbying by digital giants
Christian-Democrats had voted against the successful compromises (15 yes, 13 no) arguing they would follow the line of the internal market (IMCO) committee. Liberals had insisted to delete all references to fees for the biggest platforms to finance a common European repository and had insisted that even a minimum of randomized advertisement cannot be provided for free. Such hesitation to regulate online platforms with gigantic profits begs the question why that is. The lobbying campaign spending of digital giants Google, Meta (Facebook, WhatsApp), Apple, Amazon has catapulted them to dominate the list of the top 10 spenders. Google and Facebook each spend 5 million Euros per year for lobbying EU institutions. They also use highly questionable tactics. Their lobby advances are often disguised by front organisations that pose to represent small and medium enterprises but are financed and dominated by the giants. 70 percent of lobbyists for Google and Meta are bought out of public institutions at EU or national level through the revolving door, allowing the biggest spenders to use their internal public knowledge.