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Facebook to cave to EU pressure after row over political ad rules

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In a political stand-off between European lawmakers and Facebook, the social networking giant has blinked first.

After vocal complaints from the EUs three main institutions that the companys new political advertising rules will hamper region-wide campaigning, Facebook is expected to allow the European Parliament and EU political groups to buy social media ads across the 28-country bloc.

While no deal has yet been confirmed, Facebooks chief global lobbyist told Antonio Tajani, president of the Parliament, that these EU groups would likely be granted permission to buy political ads across the region during the electoral campaign, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

“Following a phone call between Antonio Tajani and Nick Clegg, in which Antonio Tajani asked Facebook to spare the institutions, groups and European political parties from the new rule, at least for the electoral period, Facebook has replied positively. A procedure will be foreseen for each of the three categories from April 25 to May 26,” said Parliament spokesperson Jaume Duch.

Facebooks backtracking — it had initially refused to greenlight such regional campaigning — follows widespread criticism of the companys new advertising rules, which came into force this week and require all political marketers to register in the country where they want to buy advertising as part of the companys efforts to limit foreign influence in the EU election.

Facebooks head of global affairs and former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

It also highlights how reliant political groups and institutions have become on the worlds largest social network which, despite a recent spate of scandals, remains the go-to source for digital campaigns when politicians want to get their message across to potential voters.

“Candidates and political groups need Facebook to reach the public,” said Liz Carolan, a social media expert who has analyzed the digital campaigns of several recent European elections and referenda. “Europe is different than the U.S. where these rules were developed. Facebook hasnt thought this through sufficiently.”

New advertising rules

As part of the political advertising changes, Facebook had imposed stricter geographical limits that force buyers to provide a physical address, telephone number and credit card, among other requirements, before purchasing political or issue-based advertising linked to hot-button topics like immigration.

Earlier Thursday, all the major European political parties doubled down on their criticism of Facebooks initial restrictions with an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebooks chief executive, obtained by POLITICO.

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“Facebook is treating the European single market as divisible international components That goes against European law” — Stephen Weatherill, Oxford professor

“We expect Facebook to change its rules within a matter of days to be in compliance with EU rules,” said the letter, dated April 18. “We will not accept being limited to national public spheres in a common Europe.”

The letter was signed by the leaders of the European Peoples Party, the Party of European Socialists, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and the European Green Party, among others.

Asked if the company would respond to the criticism, a Facebook representative said: “We have nothing new to share at the moment, but will be in touch if that changes.”

In the run-up to the new rules, the companys executives held several meetings with EU groups, as well as national electoral experts, and acknowledged that its focus on member states could lead to difficulties for EU-wide campaigning, according to several people who attended those meetings.

“This is a situation where a private entity, of enormous size and influence, came up in a very amateurish way with new things to comply with only a few days before the deadline,” said Sybren Kooistra, campaign manager for the European Greens.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The companys approach also differs from that of Twitter, which outlined its own political advertising limits in February that permit EU groups and institutions to buy political ads across the region, as long as they have been certified by the social network as legitimate political actors.

Facebooks stance, if unchanged, may eventually lead to legal trouble.

Stephen Weatherill, a professor of European law at the University of Oxford, said that a number ofRead More – Source

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