By Victoria Waldersee
LISBON (Reuters) – Europe’s antitrust chief praised Twitter on Thursday for banning political advertising but criticised Facebook, which will continue to run such ads, for its “de facto manipulation of who you’re going to vote for”.
Margrethe Vestager has been granted new powers by the European Union to rein in the tech sector over the next five years.
Both Twitter and Facebook have faced pressure to stop carrying ads that spread false information and that could steer elections. From this month Twitter will ban them globally.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that paying for ads forces “targeted political messages on people” with a power that “brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions.”
Vestager told a conference in Lisbon, “Twitter’s statement is still not the end of the story, you still have other issues like bots and so on, but it’s an important step forward because the company states its values.”
A bot is an automated application that can control a Twitter account and tweet messages.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended the company’s policy of running ads from politicians which may contain false or misleading claims, because the social media platform does not want to stifle political speech.
Vestager said democracy should take place in the open – where a political ad can be fact-checked, contradicted and different opinions can be offered.
“But if it’s only in your feed, between you and Facebook, and their microtargeting of who you are, that’s not democracy anymore,” she said.
“That’s just privatised de facto manipulation of who you’re going to vote for.”
Vestager said she has followed Zuckerberg and Facebook’s declarations closely. “The time has come where they should put action behind their words.”
The Danish politician is expected to use her expanded mandate as Europe’s technology chief to set rules on tech companies’ responsibilities, liabilities and security standards.
(Writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)