EU officials attack Facebook election policy

According to them, social media's new political ads rules will prevent buyers from advertising between EU countries

EU officials from bloc's three main institutions have demanded Facebook make changes to its advertising policy ahead of the European Parliament election, citing "huge political and institutional consequences," a letter sent to the US tech giant on 16 April reads. Under new set of rules, which came into force this week, the social media giant has imposed much stricter requirements on the geographic limits of a given campaign.

It now requires all advertisers to register in the country where they wish to purchase political advertising by providing a physical address as well as a telephone number and credit card, as part of an effort to limit foreign meddling in national campaigns.

Yet, Martin Selmayr of the European Commission, Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen from the EU Council, and the European Parliament's Klaus Welle argue that the new ad rules, as currently established, are not suited to the European election system, as they prevent parties and institutions from running legitimate cross-border campaigns within the EU.

"Facebook's policy would prevent European political actors from using Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram for their EU-wide paid communication campaigns," reads the letter. "This policy would put EU political actors at the same level as foreign entities attempting to interfere in the EU elections. This is not the case with other social media platforms."

"Facebook transposes the U.S. single jurisdiction system to the European level, identifying the individual member states as sole jurisdiction for the European elections. It therefore ignores the system of shared competences between the Union level and the national level," the EU letter continues.  

In response, Facebook agreed to cave to EU pressure, allowing the European Parliament and EU political groups to buy social media ads across the 28-country bloc. While no deal has yet been confirmed, Facebook's chief global lobbyist told Antonio Tajani, president of the Parliament, that these EU groups would likely be granted permission to buy political ads across the region during the electoral campaign.

“Following a phone call between Antonio Tajani and Nick Clegg, in which Antonio Tajani asked Facebook to spare the institutions, groups and European political parties from the new rule, at least for the electoral period, Facebook has replied positively. A procedure will be foreseen for each of the three categories from April 25 to May 26,” said Parliament spokesperson Jaume Duch.

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