LISBON, Portugal — A top EU official weighed in on the debate over political ads on tech platforms Thursday, telling CNBC that European lawmakers will determine the rules while companies including Facebook and Twitter must obey them.
In an interview from the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Vera Jourova, EU commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, said lawmakers in Brussels will introduce rules for more transparency in political campaigning “so people know who is behind the campaigning, who pays (for) it, what are the interests.”
Further legislation around political ads would bolster the EU’s efforts to take a leading role regulating the world’s biggest technology companies on issues ranging from disinformation to competition and data privacy.
“For us the task of the day is to come up with the rules which will protect the autonomous decision-making of the voters,” she said. “We don’t want the elections to be the competition of dirty methods like Cambridge Analytica, dirty money and unclear intentions.”
Last year, Facebook revealed political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed the data of up to 87 million users and used it, in part, to target ads for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook and Twitter have taken opposite positions on their own roles policing political advertisements on their platforms. Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the company will ban all political ads, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his decision to keep ads, even false ones, on the platform on the basis of free speech.
“I think for the legislator, the task is to come up with such rules through the law, and for Twitter and others it is then the obligation to obey those rules,” Jourova said.
She cautioned that regulators must be careful not to introduce rules that could enable censorship on tech platforms.
“I am personally very reluctant to come up with rules which will somehow define what is the truth, who will be the arbiter of truth, how should we sanction lying,” Jourova said, adding, “I don’t want to create some kind of Orwell’s world.”
Social media platforms have faced ongoing backlash from lawmakers around the world for failing to contain the spread of fake information in election campaigns.
Under a voluntary EU code of conduct, tech companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter submitted progress reports last week to the Commission detailing their efforts to fight fake news. In a joint statement on the reports, EU Commissioners said it was unclear whether the platforms initiatives to “self-regulate” had gone far enough.
“They occupy too much space, they have too much power and they don’t have much responsibility,” Jourova said.