The European Parliament voted on a proposal to restrict how political ads can target voters in the EU on platforms like Facebook and Google. The objective is to prevent manipulation ahead of the 2024 European elections. The vote, which took place on Thursday, was 433-61 with 110 abstentions.
The law presented by the European Commission in November 2021 still has to be negotiated with EU countries.
The law proposes to limit delivering paid political messages to users on online platforms based on only three pieces of information, including the language they speak, whether they’re first-time voters, and their general location, within 60 days of an election or referendum.
Outside of such periods, the use of all data would be allowed except sensitive information like sexual orientation and political affinities and campaigning based on online profiling of voters.
So far, political parties have been able to show different personalized ads to small groups of voters based on their behaviors online and personal information collected online such ethnic origin and religious beliefs. Called micro-targeting, this practice has allowed domestic and foreign actors to polarize and sow distrust among electorates.
The European Parliament also proposed to ban groups based outside the EU from buying political ads shown to the bloc’s citizens and to require large social media to publish, in real-time databases, information about ads they display.
The majority view in the European Parliament is that the law is a step in the right direction. Social Democrat MEP Marie-Manuel Leitão Marques said the deal “respects the ability of politicians to campaign, but ensures that echo chambers, bubbles and voter segmentation will be more difficult to create.”
But some MEPs criticised the law. According to FDP politician Svenja Hahn of Renew who abstained from the vote, the proposal would harm the democratic process and make it difficult to reach potential voters:
”Stricter transparency rules for political advertising are supposed to help against manipulation of democratic elections, I share the goal. However, the parliamentary text clearly goes too far and would, in this form, harm the communication of political parties with voters and thus the democratic process itself. That is why I abstained from the vote today.”
MEPs labelled as far-right also criticized the proposal.