New European Political Advertisement regulation – How might it affect your party?
Many of you have read the news about the European Parliament voting to limit and change the framework of operation for political advertising. This new framework might affect how political parties run their online political campaigns and push our parties to adapt fast. It is tempting to react to the extremes and rather do nothing or worry too much about the potential new regulations. Yet, no reason to panic, but yes, to prepare!
We must prepare since the voted regulation is not in force and does not affect how political parties run campaigns today. The regulation will now go through the negotiation process to become European legislation, and in this process, the regulation might change. Yet, we do know that a new regulatory framework is coming and might affect the way we campaign and run online political advertising.
If adopted as the European Parliament suggests, the regulation might affect your political party in the following ways:
- Digital Micro-targeting will be banned. There will be restrictions on how you target your audiences online on social platforms. Today, your party can produce political ads to certain audiences based on the interests of the individuals using the data of the users of the social media platform where the ad is running. This allows your party to highlight different parts of your program to different audiences depending on how relevant it is for them. The new regulation would ban this and proposes a system where targeting is only allowed if the platform users agree on their data being used for micro-targeting. This also means that you will need to work on asking for explicit agreement while collecting data in canvassing or political initiatives. For example, you need to ask for consent to segment data as much as possible when producing newsletters.
- Political actors and content could be broadly defined: The new regulatory framework is quite broad in defining political content and actors. A broad understanding of these concepts might limit information campaigns and the ability of your party to build on the reputation of elected officials by informing the public about their work. The regulation defines political content as the content that may influence an election, a referendum, a legislative or regulatory process, or voting behaviour in general. Political actors are also defined broadly. The regulation proposes that not only political parties and candidates in elections are limited to the framework of the regulation. The regulation also considers political actors: candidates for leadership positions in a political party; elected officials and members of government at any level, organisations established to achieve a particular aim in an election or referendum; and any other legal or natural person representing or acting on behalf of the former. Strangely enough, governments as such are not included among the long list of political actors creating a possible loophole for parties to use the offices of governments as a hub to disseminate “political information.”
- You will have to be more explicit by labelling political advertising: The new regulation might push your party to hold constant disclaimers to warn the potential voter about the content’s nature. This is nothing that we are not used to doing already, yet, if we expect this is an area where the Council will push back and ask for a compromise on how the disclaimer should be shown.
- Providers of political advertising will need to keep a record of all ads and make it available to the public: This is not a bad thing; we all want more transparency. Yet, this means that you need to be more aware of the potential political advertisement that anyone in your organisation does: politicians, campaign teams, candidates, elected officials, and local branches. This means more centralisation might be needed in the future as you also want to keep a central record to ensure that the public has backup access to all your campaigns. This might be challenging initially, but we are sure that new tools will emerge to keep up with this task.
- There will be no options to outsource your political message to others: A common technique we have seen in political campaigning is for parties to create media agencies or to have influencers multiply their political message without using the party logo. While we can debate this practice’s ethics, we must acknowledge that this is a reality. While the new regulation ensures that editorial content is out of the scope of political content, the regulation also looks at the sources of funding for independent journalists. This way, agencies or individuals that “have regular contact with that entity in connection with its purposes” fill in the scope of the new restrictions. This might affect your organisation if you have affiliated agencies or if your members use their profiles to multiply your political message.
Knowing that change is coming, we need to understand how new regulations will affect political campaigns. The voted regulation aims to “provide citizens with more transparency and a more open and democratic political debate,” using the words of Sandro Gozi. – the MEP responsible for the regulation. More transparency means more information available about sources of financing and actors behind the political advertisements. More open debate means creating safeguards for voters to have fair access to political ideas without being manipulated. It is important to remark that the regulation is set to “harmonise” how online and offline political advertisement is regulated. You need to be aware that future regulation will not only affect how your digital campaigns team works, but it will also impact how you organise your campaign as a whole.
There might be more implications that have practical consequences in the way your party campaigns. We will be following up on the developments as negotiations progress. Meanwhile, here are three tips to consider to prepare you for the upcoming regulation:
- Make sure your legal team is on top of the updates. Better to be prepared
- Start preparing your campaign teams to be conscious of the upcoming regulation
- Do the exercise to centralise and monitor the finances of all your digital campaigns
- Foster resilience in your organisation. Regulation will make us adapt, but new voter engagement solutions will come along the way. Remember, innovation evolves faster than regulation!
Think back in time, and remember all the fuss when the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was initially voted by the European Parliament in 2013. Back then, parties were new to online political advertising and needed to learn how GDPR would affect them. What did it mean that the EP adopted a report on data protection? How would it affect the functioning of our campaigns? GDPR had a negotiation process of two years and two more years for it to become applicable legislation to member states in 2018. During negotiations, several changes were made to the regulatory proposal. This timeline allowed parties to understand and prepare for upcoming changes. For many, GDPR was a cold shower, but for those who closely followed the developments, GDPR was only an obstacle to overcome.
Nothing to panic about, this regulation is still in the early stages before negotiations. Many things can change. Our goal is to understand and to help you get resilient and ready. In a future entry, we will explore more insights when we look at the pro and contra arguments of the ones proposing and opposing the regulation. Stay tuned with PartyParty!
Author: Luis Cano
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