A mysterious online campaign against leading European Commission presidential candidates has featured in Google and Facebook ads despite breaching both companies rules on political advertising.
The campaign uses online advertisements to target Manfred Weber, the German candidate of Europes main center-right political alliance, and Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, his Dutch center-left rival. The ads link to two articles hosted on the Medium online publishing platform that criticize both men, posted under what appears to be a fake profile.
People in Brussels saw the ads in recent days on websites that host advertising provided by Googles powerful Ads platform, including POLITICOs European edition. The ads — featuring photos of the two lead candidates and the banner “Welcome Timmermans and Timmermans 2.0!” — appeared to be specifically targeted at internet users in Belgium.
The adverts are directly relevant to a small but influential audience, as the decision on the next Commission president will be taken by the leaders of the EUs member countries and the European Parliament. However, they do not seem to have been written by a native English speaker.
Falling through the cracks
The ads raise fresh questions about the effectiveness of measures by Google, Facebook and other tech companies to tackle disinformation on their platforms. The companies have pledged to make sure political ads are identified as such and to disclose who is behind them, but failed on both counts with the campaign attacking Weber and Timmermans.
Following questions from POLITICO, Google blocked the ads and said it is looking into the case. The company declined to answer questions about who was behind the ads, how much was paid to run them, how many people they reached and which users they targeted. Facebook had not responded to POLITICOs questions by the time of this articles publication, and the ads were still active and unmarked as “political.”
Google, Facebook and Twitter signed up to an EU code of practice on disinformation last year, pledging to boost transparency around political campaigning on their platforms. In the run-up to last months European Parliament election, they also released transparency tools for political ads, meant to alert users when they are reading political material, and promised to take down coordinated efforts to mislead or provide false information to European voters.
But the ads driving users to the articles criticizing Timmermans and Weber apparently fell through the cracks because the people responsible didnt declare them as political.
Fake author profile?
The post on Medium featured in the Google ads argues that there is little difference between Timmermans, candidate of the Party of European Socialists, and Weber, leader of the European Peoples Party group in the European Parliament.
“Why do we have the feeling that Mr Weber speaks only to the Western, politically correct, liberal citizens of the EU?” the article states.
The author is listed as Marta Loeb, described in her Medium profile as “associate professor of modern sociology, reporter and editor-in-chief of Who Is Who.” POLITICO has been unable to identify any real person with this name and background.
The European Commission is currently reviewing the effectiveness of the voluntary regime that nudged the platforms into taking action.
The profile only became active in the past two weeks, along with a matching Facebook page that ran three paid ads promoting Medium articles ostensibly posted by the same person, according to data from the social media platforms ad library.
On June 3, the Facebook page launched a paid ad that appears to link to an article about “how a song used in The Exorcist helped make [Richard] Branson millions.” Instead, users are directed to another article, ostensibly by Marta Loeb, arguing that “Frans Timmermans is authentic as a thinker representing left-wing ideas, but not credible as a politician.”
Although both Medium-hosted articles on the EUs lead candidates are in English, they contain grammatical mistakes and wording that would be highly unusual for native speakers.
On May 23, the Facebook page ran links to the Medium page of “Marta Loeb,” featuring two plagiarized articles, onRead More – Source