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European University Institute - Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

Can the unregulated online space jeopardise the European elections' fairness?

A blog post on the risks posed by the unregulated online sphere, the related lack of transparency in political advertising and their implications on the fairness of the upcoming European Parliament's elections.

05 June 2024 | Blog - Research

Blurred and crowded street in Poland

Ahead of the European Parliament elections on 6-9 June, Matteo Trevisan and Konrad Bleyer-Simon just published a blog on the risks related to online political campaigns.

The authors highlight online political advertising as a major concern for a healthy electoral process based on the data from the upcoming Media Pluralism Monitor, produced by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom. A general lack of targeted regulation, opacity from political actors, and the limited ability by data protection authorities to address the use of personal data are persistent issues that might challenge the quality of the upcoming European elections.

'Political advertising' refers to paid-for messages that advocate for a certain political party or candidate running for election and, in a broader sense, any amplified message that has an impact on the outcome of an election. While political advertising on public service media and commercial audiovisual platforms raises fewer concerns due to existing regulations, political advertising in the online environment, especially on social media, poses significant risks to the fairness of election campaigns.

The online sphere is largely unregulated when it comes to providing equal opportunities for candidates and ensuring transparency in political advertising. This deficiency in regulation carries significant implications for public accountability. In some countries, traditional regulations apply to online media, but these laws are often outdated and do not adequately address online platforms.

Therefore, parties' social media activities are highly opaque across member states, both in terms of their expenditure and the techniques used for campaigning (for instance, micro-targeting, the transformation of common interests pages into political ad accounts right before elections or the use of non-official pages connected to political parties). 

Data protection authorities are expected to monitor the use of individuals' personal data by political parties for electoral campaigning purposes, and even use their sanctioning powers if needed. However, they are often unable to live up to the task, either due to a lack of sufficient funding or possible political pressures.

Read the full blog post.

Last update: 05 June 2024

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