Laws should address the applicability of regulations on paid political advertising in traditional media, including rules on placement, financing, and transparency, to such advertising online.
- Limits on advertising spending (as political speech) were instituted only in the interests of promoting equality between candidates or parties
- Paid advertising on public media was identified as such, and the costs and conditions involved were reasonable and equally applied to all candidates and parties
- Private media, while not subject to the same regulation as public media, was generally fair and balanced in their coverage of the candidates and provided an equal opportunity for access to all candidates
- Campaign finance reporting requirements were realistic, and disclosure requirements struck a balance between transparency and the privacy of donors
- Paid content in media and other information sources, including online, was clearly marked and distinguishable from editorial and user-generated content
- Against this background, the responsibility of social media platforms within the framework of current political / campaign finance regimes to ensure transparency and accountability of ad placement, expenditure and attribution in order to better inform citizens of the context in which electoral choices are being made, gains critical importance.
- Two essential elements of the internet are its instantaneity and its interactivity, which significantly affect the time frame established for the realisation of the electoral campaign. It would be interesting to reconsider the concept of soliciting votes, a process which is divided between periods of pre-campaign (or permanent campaign) and campaign. Similarly, the expediency of distinguishing between financing of campaigns and financing of political parties appears questionable.
- It is also necessary to address the issue of the ban of political campaigns during the day before the election, whose nature clashes with that of the internet as an asynchronous medium, in which content is permanent and accessible to everyone at all times, without political parties needing to take any action whatsoever: political events, messages, videos, propaganda, etc. from the entire campaign are available to the citizen, including the day before the election.
- Therefore, the Venice Commission has issued two recommendations which remain highly relevant and need to be implemented: - Revising rules and regulations on political advertising, in terms of access to the media (updating broadcasting quotas, limits and reporting categories, introducing new measures covering internet-based media, platforms and other services, addressing the implications of micro targeting) and in terms of spending (broadening of scope of communication channels covered by the relevant legislation, addressing the monitoring capacities of national authorities.
- Therefore, the Venice Commission has issued two recommendations which remain highly relevant and need to be implemented: - Ensuring accountability of internet intermediaries, in terms of transparency and access to data enhancing transparency of spending, specifically for political advertising. In particular, internet intermediaries should provide access to data on paid political advertising, so as to avoid facilitating illegal (foreign) involvement in elections, and to identify the categories of target audiences.
- Political campaigning undertaken by political parties, candidates and other individuals online entails responsibilities not only for governments but also for platforms and intermediaries, which should develop codes of conduct that make explicit their respect for such fundamental rights and put in place strategies for their effective enforcement in line with the respective national rules on political campaigning.
- Governments, electoral management bodies and relevant oversight agencies must act swiftly to bring legal definitions of political advertising up to date, thereby grounding in law essential responsibilities on content, financing and placement of online political ads that correspond to online platforms, political activists, sponsors and other intermediaries.
- Online platforms must conduct identity verification protocols to ensure that only legally authorised advertisers place ads and should be responsible for removing inauthentic online communications. Regulations should ban inauthentic production and dissemination of online political advertisement, such as machine-generated ads and targeting.
- Any rules on election spending which are designed to create a level electoral playing field should be applicable to legacy and digital media, taking into account their differences, including rules about transparency of political advertising.