A top Brussels official has opposed demands from Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to completely ban individually tailored online political advertising, claiming it would weaken the ability of parties to use digital campaigning.

Brussels wants to limit political parties’ ability to target messages to specific voters based on their online behaviour and personal information. The goal is to make elections fairer and reduce misinformation. Microtargeting methods were prevalent throughout the 2016 Brexit referendum and US presidential election, with devastating and chaotic consequences. 

In July, MEPs recommended a complete prohibition on online platforms broadcasting political advertisements that may be based on the concept of private profiles and tracking individuals. Vra Jourová, European Commissioner for Values and Transparency, opposes the idea. The Commissioner said legislators should allow limited microtargeting under new rules on targeted political advertising but mandate rigorous transparency.

The commissioner claimed she was open to discussion on whether or not voters should be allowed to reject online political advertising altogether, but warned that allowing people to choose which advertisements they see would be damaging.

What does Jourová believe?

Jourová said in an interview that legislators should allow political advertisements to be placed online, adding that if microtargeting were prohibited, the marketing strategy would be rendered obsolete.

She said she wasn’t trying to help the gatekeepers continue dominating the space, adding that she isn’t keen on using her power to make it impossible for political parties and individuals to use the online space.

The ghosts of elections past

Paul Tang, a Socialist MEP who supports the ban on microtargeting, says that the point is not advertising efficacy, but fair elections, adding that this necessitates preventing voter manipulation and ensuring equal access to information for all voters. Tang believes that transparency alone will not ensure fair elections. Jourová, however, indicates that certain microtargeting should be permitted as long as the guidelines applied remain transparent.

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