In elections and other democratic processes, people want access to authoritative information and a broad range of perspectives. High-quality information helps people make informed decisions when voting and counteracts abuse by bad actors. This is why we support the goals of the EU regulation on political ads to increase access to high-quality information, improve transparency and help safeguard the integrity of electoral processes.
Across Google and YouTube, our teams support democratic processes by connecting people to election information like practical tips on how to register to vote or providing authoritative information about candidates. And, we have worked to increase transparency around political ads on our platforms for many years. For example, ahead of the 2019 European Parliamentary elections, Google launched its EU political content ads transparency tools, which require verification and in-ad “paid for by” disclosures for EU election ads on Search.
As policymakers in Brussels debate new rules on political ads, we have a responsibility to share our experience of how proposals could work on our platforms, to help prevent unintended consequences and to ensure the new rules work in practice.
Five considerations for the EU’s new political ads rules:
- More clarity is needed on what constitutes a “political ad”. The wide definitions being proposed by the different institutions could include a broad range of online speech or content about political issues — YouTube creators, including NGOs, who share their points of view on issues of the day could find their content classified as a “political ad”. Similarly, advertisers talking about social issues like climate change could be caught by these definitions. Most people do not want to see this type of content inadvertently captured by the rules, more clarity is needed in the wording.
- Build a balanced transparency regime. We support the ambition of the regulation to introduce better transparency measures for political advertising. Platforms must be able to rely in good faith on declarations from advertisers. Advertisers, not platforms, are able to validate their information and best understand the nature and context of their ads. They play a critical role in providing accurate information and ensuring that their content complies with applicable laws.
- Allow voters to see relevant political ads. It is important that this regulation does not lead to platforms simply not being able to serve political ads to users. In some interpretations it could become impossible to even serve ads in the local language in a given local election due to the way the law impacts the technical requirements of the serving of ads. Political advertising is an important component of democratic elections — candidates use ads to raise awareness, share information and engage potential voters.
- Ensure user flags cannot be abused by malicious actors. Allowing any user to challenge any political ad — that then has to be acted upon by the platform — would pave the way for abuse of the system by trolls, foreign actors and political opponents. This tool could also be misused and lead to platforms removing ads to avoid liability and silence legitimate speech from politicians and political parties.
- Consider the impact of restrictions on political content in recommendation systems on viewers, creators, and the healthy political discourse that YouTube aims to provide a platform for. With over 500 hours of content uploaded on YouTube every minute, recommendations play a critical role in helping people discover content. For example, during elections they ensure content is delivered locally relevant and in the right language. Effectively removing any political content from recommendations would make it harder for voters to access high quality information online.
This new regulation plays an important role in setting standards across the whole of the EU single market and could help voters have the right kind of information and control around the content they see. As we build on our own work to connect people with high quality information, support civic engagement and provide a platform for healthy political discourse, we look forward to engaging with policymakers and contributing further to this important debate.