EU lawmakers vote for stricter online campaign regulations in wake of alleged Russian cyberattack

The European Parliament voted Friday to push for tighter regulations on political ads, election spending and social media campaigns across the 27 EU member states — and the most notable part of their new plan is banning the use of personal data and using it only to increase voter turnout.

The proposal also calls for much stricter ad regulations, bans on funding members and MEPs, and measures to prevent automated bots from being used to influence elections.

This comes as European election monitors look into a cyberattack that reportedly knocked down access to the Macedonian presidential election database last week. Russia has reportedly been using fake web pages for months to interfere in the elections.

The result of the vote by the lawmakers is currently being scrutinized in several European courts. In the days since the plan has taken effect, even U.S. tech companies have weighed in and expressed their disapproval. Google CEO Sundar Pichai told European Parliament lawmakers on Thursday, that the plan is likely to have a “detrimental” effect on democracy.

“There’s enough regulation to deal with deceptive advertising,” Pichai argued, according to a BBC report.

And on Friday, Facebook and Google introduced updated political ad rules following the EU Parliament vote, saying they will ban use of fake identities and distribute a tool allowing users to see how much money has been spent by the companies on election-related advertising.

The plan would impose fines of up to €50 million ($59 million) for companies that violate the rules — meaning that, if legislation were passed, Google, Facebook and Twitter would be placed on the hook for the approximately $29 million spent on political advertising during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

It also defines “irregularities” and “fake news” as prohibited campaign ads, giving all broadcasters a mandate to ask why an ad has been shared without ad spending, though technically, it could be as easy as a comment on a Facebook post or a comment on an article on Twitter.

This effectively makes it illegal for a politician or candidate to ask for donations or for a campaign organization to request that a website post ads supporting that candidate or party.

Contacted by Fox News, a spokesperson for Facebook said: “This new regulation is a blatant threat to the very free expression that makes these platforms possible, and we can’t support its passage.”

“This regulation will most likely undermine democracy and the level of trust that people have in the United Kingdom’s elections in 2020,” said the UK’s head of politics, David Reynolds, in a statement.

“Our integrity as a country in the European elections will be damaged as our democratic system will be reliant on money raised and spent without proper oversight. The outcome will not be clear or fair,” he said.

The proposal would ban adverts that use any personal data of an electorate – the EU Parliament previously found Facebook had used third-party cookies for ads targeting EU users without giving the company prior consent – and would make campaign ads more transparent. It would also require all election money in the EU to be overseen by a third party to prevent money laundering.

Dutch lawmaker Marietje Schaake said the new measures are necessary to ensure “there are no illegal or fake ads placed” during the EU elections.

“The EU is planning to do something similar to in the United States, and I think this is not the way to go,” she told the Associated Press.

Earlier this month, European Union leaders voiced their concerns about online manipulation, which included promoting fake news and preying on vulnerable users with fake voting apps.

“We need to work on a European mechanism to reach a common position on this matter,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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