Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, has slammed Facebook political advertising, arguing that the micro-targeted approach lacks oversight and is “not democracy”.

Speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, yesterday, Vestager warned that failure to take action on the issue risked “completely undermining our democracy”.

“Democracy is supposed to take place in the open where a political ad can be fact-checked, contradicted, different opinions can be offered, it can be supported,” she said.

“But if it’s only in your feeds, it’s only between you and Facebook.”

She raised particular concerns over the micro-targeting of advertising on the social media platform, arguing that such tailored political advertising on Facebook undermined the fundamental principles of what democracy is.

“The microtargeting of who you are – that’s not democracy anymore,” she said.

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“That is just privatised de-facto manipulation of who you’re going to vote for. A democracy is supposed to take place in the open.”

Regulating Facebook political advertising

On the subject of regulating online political advertising on platforms such as Facebook, Vestager expressed exasperation at why regulations simply did not apply in the same way as on traditional, non-digital platforms.

“We have discussed in depth at length in the real world, what we want to accept and what we will not accept. I simply do not understand why that is not the same thing in the digital world,” she said.

“Because this is something that we have discussed, and that has been back and forth Snd it has taken us ages. And we say, ‘well, this is the framework for political advertising, this is the framework for our democratic debates’. Why that should be any different in a digital world, I don’t understand.”

While regulation plays an important role, social media companies such also need to play their part, and Vestager argued that Facebook was not keeping up with Twitter when it came to matching values with action.

“Twitter, they say we will not have political advertising. That, of course, is not the end of that story because you may still have bots and throttle farms and all of that. But it’s an important step forward when the company shows, ‘well these are our values, this is what we believe in; we are not just a neutral sort of stream of whatever comes here, we have values here’,” she said.

“And I’m not the CEO of Facebook, I’m not to judge, but I think the time has come where they should also put action behind their words.”

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