Facebook’s Global Affairs and Communications head, Nick Clegg, was given a stern warning form the EU on 18 April and was told the social media giant needed to rethink its rules for thwarting foreign interference in elections.
While Facebook has argued it has already developed a suitable method for stopping foreign governments from influencing the democratic process of countries they see as adversaries, Věra Jourová, the European commissioner for justice, said the development process is far from over. Her comments prompted the bloc’s top civil servants to send a letter addressed to Clegg, the UK’s former deputy prime minister, which accused Facebook of blatantly ignoring European laws.
In the letter, the EU says Facebook’s efforts raise fundamental concerns about the American company’s new transparency and anti-disinformation rules, which block the EU from using Facebook as an advertising platform ahead of the European election on 23-26 May.
Brussels argues that Facebook’s failure to recognise how the EU’s parties and institutions work encroaches on fundamental European rights, including the freedom of movement and political participation. In its current form, Facebook’s new rules would also seriously hinder individual EU electoral rights.
Klaus Welle from the European Parliament, the European Council’s Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, and Martin Selmayr from the European Commission have suggested that the flaw in Facebook’s approach would treat EU’s institutions and Europe-wide parties “as foreign entities attempting to interfere in the EU elections”.
“If the new rules were implemented in their current form, in practice our institutions would not be able to promote content on Facebook outside of Belgium,” the three European civil servants said. “This runs counter to the nature of EU institutions. By definition, our constituency is multinational and our target audience is in all EU countries and beyond.”
“I believe (Facebook) will seriously consider the letter of the three secretary generals. These are three European institutions which have a clear message for Facebook – you should take into consideration that the EU is one space which has some political actors that are authorised to operate on the whole market,” said Jourová.