This morning, signatories of the 2022 EU Code of Practice on Disinformation published their first reports under the new Code. The voluntary document, which was completed in June last year, signed platforms up to a range of measures designed to counter online disinformation, including commitments around improving the transparency of political advertising.
The 20+ signatories included some of the major advertising platforms, including Meta and Google, as well as Microsoft, TikTok and Twitter, alongside fact-checkers and civil society like us.
The Code itself isn’t the main mechanism for increasing political ad transparency, and delegated much of its force to the forthcoming EU Political Ad Regulation. As a result, this first round of reports didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know, reinforcing the policy commitments the advertising platforms had already made.
That said, there were a few things that caught our attention…
1/ Twitter plans to relaunch its Advertising Transparency Centre
In its report, Twitter revealed it’s going to relaunch its Ads Transparency Centre, which it removed from its site in 2019 when it decided to ban political ads. But then, last month, the company, announced its intention to bring them back to the platform. The question was whether the requisite transparency would also return.
Well, their report confirms it will – “We will provide the transparency that people expect with these forms of advertising. The Twitter Ads Transparency Centre will be reinstated.”
Assuming it actually happens, the re-introduction of the Twitter ad library will give us some insight into how political advertising is used on the platform. That said, our expectations are quite low, as the old transparency tool was pretty weak (certainly compared to Facebook and Google’s equivalent). It’ll be interesting to see whether it’ll be better than before. When political advertising does return to Twitter, we hope to work with the company, as a fellow signatory, to push for high standards of advertising transparency.
2/ Google and Meta are gearing up for EU Political Advertising Regulation
Both Google and Meta, the two largest hosts of online political ads in the EU, hinted that their ad transparency practices would change in the coming months to accommodate the new EU legislation on political ad transparency. The proposed regulation on the transparency and targeting of political advertising, which will come into law ahead of the EU Parliamentary elections next spring, will require platforms to adhere to a greater, more standardised form of ad transparency and impose stricter limits on how political ads can target users. (1) In their reports, both platforms noted they’ll comply with the legislation once the text is finalised. For campaigners and researchers alike, we should all know that the only thing that’s certain is change, and it does appear there’s more to come.
3/ What comes next is what matters
Apart from these announcements, there isn’t much more to glean from the first version of this report. Meta and Google did share a few stats about their moderation efforts around political advertising, including the number of political and election ads being rejected due to non-compliance with their policies (over 260,000 political and social issue ads were rejected on Facebook and Instagram in Q4 alone last year).
But, since this is the first report and just a baseline, we’ll learn more over time as platforms update their progress periodically and demonstrate the action they’ve taken to achieve their commitments. We’ll continue to participate in, and monitor progress of the Code to see how signatories hold true to their commitments to improve the quality and transparency of political advertising on their platforms.