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Revealed: the far-right EU election ads flooding social media

EU voters head to the polls in June
EU voters head to the polls in June Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Jack Schickler
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Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang lead the field in a social media ad splurge ahead of a June poll.

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Just two weeks ahead of EU elections, major parties are scrambling to gain your attention on social media.

New Euronews analysis, based on data issued by major online ad providers, shows which ones are paying most to secure your vote before pan-European polls in June.

Just looking at Google activity in the last 30 days, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán splurged north of €60,000 on one ad.

That garnered him over 10 million views in just 11 days – more than Hungary’s population, though some may have seen it twice.

“War is terrible, wars brings death, it destroys our homelands. War causes inflation and wrecks the economy,” says the 15-second advert, illustrated with pictures of Orbán’s political foe Péter Magyar and financier George Soros.

Anti-war or pro-Russia?

With spending of between €60,000 and €70,000 in the last 30 days, Orbán’s appears to be the most costly political ad offered in the EU by the search giant as campaigns reach their closing weeks.

Its message also lines up with the pro-Russian stance of his Fidesz party – which is attempting to cast Ukraine supporters as encouraging an ongoing conflict, and has repeatedly blocked Brussels’ support for war-torn Ukraine and sanctions on Russian aggression.

In cost terms, Fidesz is followed by a 33-second spot in Belgium – where voters in June have a triple election, also selecting their federal and regional representatives.

Vlaams Belang’s Tom Van Grieken promises voters less immigration and more purchasing power, in an ad on which the Flemish separatist party spent between €50,000 and €60,000.

While lower-budget, a sponsored post from Spain’s Vox – claiming that 80% of arrests in Barcelona are of foreigners – has also scored over 10 million views.

Beyond the far-right

But it’s not just the far-right using Google Ads. Renew Europe, the centrist political group of French President Emmanuel Macron, has spent around €50,000 on an ad comparing first time voting to a baby’s first steps or teenager’s first kiss.

Austria’s social democratic party and pro-European German party Volt are also spending high, the Google data show.

While European election excesses don’t usually reach levels seen in the US – where candidates can routinely splurge a million dollars on a single ad – there’s still plenty of controversy over how political funds are spent online.

Major social media say they publish data on political ad spending as part of their commitment to transparency, after the scandal which saw political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica able to harvest data from 87 million Facebook profiles without user consent, and allegations of Russian interference in western elections.

EU rules agreed in February forbid pre-election spending from abroad, and in principle campaign ads shouldn’t be targeted based on political views – though even the European Commission has apparently fallen foul of those strictures in its own social media promotions.

Facebook too

A look at Meta, owner of social media network Facebook, tells a similar story to Google: it’s far-right parties from Hungary and Belgium who have spent the most.

They’re followed by German liberals the FDP – whose post on the EU’s Erasmus+ education programme has gained over one million views – and Italy’s centre-right Forza Italia.

Not all campaign ads are for candidates. Non-government organisations also pay for social media promotions, and in the last month the European Parliament itself has spent over €183,000 in France and Germany alone for Facebook ads encouraging people to go out and vote – though these are excluded from Euronews’ analysis.

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But spending levels differ wildly across the bloc, the data shows, likely due to different nationally imposed caps.

France doesn’t show any paid-for political campaigns at all, while Portugal has just €900 from the pan-EU European People’s Party. In other places, EU elections take a back seat; the biggest spenders in Romania are contenders to be Mayor of Bucharest.

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