In the months leading up to the European Elections in 2019, political groups in some European countries spent millions of euros on targeted political advertising on Facebook. The social networking giant has been under the spotlight since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal in 2018, and in 2019 Facebook launched an Ad Library to increase transparency around advertisements on its platforms. Analyzing the data made available in this archive, along with other sources like the European Commission and the Electoral Commission (in the UK), researchers and the general public are able to gain an insight into how the internet is being used for online political advertising in the European Union.
Political campaign regulation varies from country to country. Some EU member states set limits on expenditure, others allow political advertising on TV and radio. In the United Kingdom, paid political advertising on broadcast media is not permitted, but each party is allocated limited slots for party political broadcasts which are free of charge. The same level of regulation doesn’t apply to online political advertising in the UK, which is one of the reasons why political groups focused efforts and spending on digital advertising for the EU referendum in 2016 and the UK General Elections in 2017.
However, public opinion is strongly in favor of online media being made to adhere to the same rules as traditional media in pre-election periods. There are also high levels of concern at personal data being used in targeted political messages in the UK and all other EU member states.