The Malta Independent 19 August 2019, Monday

EP elections: How Malta eclipsed every other country in social media political advertising

David Lindsay Sunday, 30 June 2019, 10:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Last month’s European Parliament and Local Council elections were fought, in Malta at least, on the social media battle ground more so than in any election past.

And figures supplied by the world’s social media giants show that Maltese political advertising during the month of May absolutely eclipsed what was being done in any other member state.

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In total over the month of May, Maltese political Facebook advertisements totalled 4,552, with a matching expenditure of €116,959.

While far larger countries such as Germany had far more political advertisements and spent far more in gross terms, 76,777 and €3,530,336 respectively, in per capita terms, Malta had 10 times as many advertisements.

In terms of bulk advertisement per capita, only Luxemburg came close, with 3,335 adverts, adjusted to reflect Maltese per capita terms, followed by Cyprus (1,382) and Denmark (1,276).

The EU average, reflected in Maltese per capita terms, was 799 adverts per country compared with Malta’s 4,552.

The figures are derived from the European Commission’s May reports on its Code of Practice on Disinformation intermediate targeted monitoring, in which it addresses actions taken during May 2019 towards the implementation of commitments under the Code with particular pertinence to the integrity of elections.

 

Google

Google reported on actions taken in May to improve scrutiny of ad placements in each Member State. These included 16,690 actions against EU-based Google Ads advertiser accounts for violation of the company’s policies on misrepresentation and 5,465 actions against such accounts for violation of its policies on insufficient original content.

As regards EU-based AdSense publishers, Google took action against 88 web publishers for violation of its policies on valuable inventory. It did not detect any EU-based AdSense publishers in violation of the company’s misrepresentative content policies in May.

It should be recalled that such policies have a wide scope and not all of the violations acted upon were necessarily associated with disinformation campaigns.

With regard to the transparency of political ads, Google reported on receiving 676 verification applications and successfully verifying 174 advertisers to run political ads during

the campaign for the EU Parliament elections between 1 May and 26 May 2019.

Fifty-seven applications were under review, while 445 were rejected, many for failure to provide the required documents. Google identified and labelled more than 98,000 election ad creatives from verified advertisers.

Of those ads labelled, more than 63,000 were shown to users in May.

Additionally, Google prevented more than 50,000 ads from being served due to the advertisers' failure to meet its verification requirements.

Malta

For Malta, Google removed 103 Google Ads accounts for misrepresentation violations, 15 Google Ads accounts with Insufficient Original Content violations, and had 35 participants in its ‘Google Trainings on Election Tools’ initiative.

Facebook

As part of its efforts to improve the scrutiny of ad placements, Facebook recalls that its policies do not allow ads containing low-quality, disruptive, misleading or false content or ads that are circumventing its systems.

It did not mention the number of ads it took action on in the EU that were identified as problematic for these reasons in May 2019.

As such, the Commission urged Facebook to provide data on a consistent basis so as to allow an accurate and continuous assessment of the effectiveness of its policies and the progress achieved.

With regard to the transparency of political and issue-based advertising, Facebook noted the launch of its Ads Library Report in May 2019, which provides information on the number of political and issue-based ads per Member State as well as aggregated advertiser spend.

It also includes information per advertiser, i.e. the name of the page running the ads, the “paid for by” disclaimer, the amount spent and a link to the ads in the Ad Library.

Facebook reported that between the launch of the ads authorisation process late March up to 29 May 2019, there were 343,736 political ads across the EU, with an amount of €19.8 million of political ads spend and provided a breakdown per Member State.

Facebook also reported on the removal of a number of Facebook accounts, Pages and Groups that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behaviour (CIB) as part of networks emanating from Russia, Israel and Iran, some of which focused also on EU Member States.

Malta

Maltese politicians and political groups posted a total of 4,552 adverts on Facebook, spending a total of €116,959 in the election month of May, far eclipsing every other member state in per capita terms.

Twitter

As regards measures designed to improve scrutiny of ad placements, Twitter reported about 1,428 ads rejected in the EU for not complying with its Unacceptable Businesses Practices ads policy between 1 May and 20 May 2019 and provided a breakdown per Member State.

Examples of such practices include, among others, potentially deceptive, misleading, or harmful business propositions or making misleading, false, or unsubstantiated claims. Moreover, Twitter reported that it prevented 1,975 ads from being served to EU users for non-compliance with its Quality Ads policy between 1 May and 20 May 2019 and provided a breakdown per Member State. This policy requires ads to adhere to editorial guidelines related to the following topics: user bio, destination URL, content, clarity, accuracy, text,

image and video.

On the transparency of political ads, Twitter provides information on ads prevented from being served because they failed to pass the certification process obligatory for political campaigning advertisers. Between 11 April and 20 May 2019, 503 such ads were blocked.

Furthermore, Twitter reported on 27 political campaigning advertisers certified, with 21 of them having run ads. Twitter also reported on the total number of political campaigning applicants (70 EU-wide) and provided a breakdown per Member State. It recalled that the ads included in the Ads Transparency Centre (ATC) will remain accessible there indefinitely.

With regard to the integrity of services, Twitter reported it proactively challenged 9,775,179 potentially spam or fake accounts between 1 May and 20 May 2019 and received 344,987 user reports about suspected spam accounts.

Malta

19 Maltese adverts were rejected per Twitter’s Unacceptable Business Practices Ads Policy, 47 ads were prevented from targeting Malta and rejected per Twitter’s Quality Ads Policy, while another eight ads were prevented from targeting Malta from non-certified accounts.

 

Combating the fake news scourge

Overall, Facebook, Google and Twitter ramped up their efforts to fight fake news ahead of elections last month but “more needs to be done” in the face of ongoing threats from Russia.

The EU reported evidence of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” such as bots and fake accounts trying spread divisive content on online platforms ahead of the European Parliament elections at the end of May. The EU added it found “continued and sustained disinformation activity” by Russian sources aiming to influence voter preferences and suppress turnout.

“The tactics used by internal and external actors, in particular linked to Russian sources, are evolving as quickly as the measures adopted by states and online platforms,” the statement said.

The EU report found it was too early to identify whether there was a “distinct cross-border disinformation campaign” targeting the European elections.

Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have faced backlash from lawmakers around the world for failing to contain the spread of fake information in election campaigns. The EU said the companies have made progress in some of their efforts to fight disinformation, like hiring fact-checking teams and tightening restrictions around political advertising. But European officials added they expect the firms “to maintain momentum and to step up their efforts.”

The EU said that in the days preceding elections, more than 600 groups and Facebook pages across Germany, France, Italy, the UK, Poland and Spain were reported to have spread disinformation and hate speech. It said these pages generated 763 million user views.

Facebook has been stepping up its fight against fake accounts in recent months. In May, the company reported it removed 2.2 billion fake accounts in the first quarter of 2019, nearly double the amount from the prior quarter. Facebook also toughened its requirements around political advertising on the platform ahead of EU elections.

“Although Facebook extended its transparency to issue-based ads and Google and Twitter did not, questions remain about the effectiveness of the transparency measures taken by all signatories,” the EU report said. “Furthermore, the platforms did not make sufficient progress in increasing the transparency of websites hosting ads, partly due to the lack of engagement from the advertising industry.”

Facebook, Google and Twitter agreed to an EU ‘Code of Practice on Disinformation’ in 2018, making commitments to submit monthly reports on their efforts to remove fake news ahead of the election.

“People want accurate information online and the work undertaken under the code shows how governments, tech companies and trade bodies can work together to tackle online misinformation. But the fight against false news will never be over. That is why we are making significant investments to remove fake accounts and clickbait and to promote high-quality journalism and news literacy,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement Friday.

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