Ofcom’s new report on online political advertising builds on research undertaken by FuJo.
Under the 2018 EU Code of Practice on Online Disinformation, technology platforms agreed to increase transparency for political advertising.
Ireland was one of the first countries to publish research on the Code when the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland commissioned FuJo to monitor online political advertising during the 2019 European Elections. The results were published in the ElectCheck report.
Ofcom replicated FuJo’s methodology to monitor political advertising on Facebook and Google during the 2019 UK General Election. The Ofcom findings mirror the conclusions of FuJo’s report.
Ofcom noted that “the information provided by online platforms has potentially brought benefits”, but there were inconsistencies “in how the code was applied across platforms” and insufficient information to support “comprehensive monitoring of the code’s implementation”.
Regulating online advertising
The report draws broader conclusions about the factors that need to be considered when developing regulatory tools for online advertising:
Online regulation is a new and developing area. Regulators and platforms might need to test and evolve their approach to meet the dynamic nature of the market and the potential for unintended consequences.
Regulatory outcomes will be improved by platforms having their own robust systems to monitor the effectiveness and outcomes of their actions. This will be challenging to achieve and might itself require an iterative approach.
Transparency of the processes put in place by platforms would allow regulators and researchers to better assess their effectiveness and to work with platforms to identify any scope for improvements. It would also build trust between regulators, platforms and the public.
An open dialogue between regulators, platforms, third sector and academia about data availability and access could help to assess the implementation and effectiveness of a regulatory approach. Such dialogue should also consider the costs and benefits of making such information available.
Monitoring could be strengthened by supplementing the analysis of platforms’ data with other evidence, such as consumer research into how users engage with the measures taken by platforms.
The European Commission is expected to update the transparency requirements for political advertising in the coming months.
This week, FuJo Director Jane Suiter was one of three experts invited to speak to a parliamentary committee about Ireland’s proposed regulation on online political advertising. One criticism of the proposed rules is that they rely on a narrow definition of political advertising.