No Embargo in Sight: Meta Lets Pro-Russia Propaganda Ads Flood the EU

This comprehensive study scrutinizes Meta's Ad Library, which contains metadata on all advertisements targeting the EU since its expansion in August 2023 to comply with the EU’s new Digital Services Act.

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Update: 30 May 2024

AI Forensics, in collaboration with Checkfirst, published a follow up report on the political ads approved on Meta platforms from May 1st to May 27, 2024. 2 weeks ahead of the European elections, it shows that the campaign is intensifying, and **is now targetting Italy and Poland on top of France and Germany. **

This follow up was covered in Politico.

Update: 30 April 2024

EU Commission launches an investigation proceedings into Meta's breaches on political advertising, citing the AI Forensics report "No Embargo In Sight".

Marc Faddoul, Director at AI Forensics said:

“This shows the EU is ramping up its role in tackling the information crisis. With the elections around the corner, this is the first real test of whether the Digital Service Act can be effective, in particular against foreign influence operations.

“Platforms now have a legal responsibility to tackle these [foreign interference] threats seriously and systematically. Meta in particular, has consistently failed to do so in the past, but we know they have the technical capability to do so."

Paul Bouchaud, a researcher at EHESS and AI Forensics said:

“In the past week alone, Meta approved nearly 100 pro-Russian ads and displayed them to over 1.5 million accounts in Europe. More than 40 million accounts have been exposed since August. If we can detect Doppelganger’s activity in real-time, Meta should too. Somehow, a corporation the size of Meta fails to promptly detect covert political advertising campaigns: to be clear, they just haven't tried hard enough.”

Raziye Buse Çetin, head of Policy and Communication at AI Forensics said:

“From democratic integrity to child safety, today’s announcement is yet another welcome signal that European regulators are intending to protect people from the harms of Big Tech. Ultimately, investigations and fines won't be enough. Regulators must ensure Meta applies lasting changes to its algorithms and adequately resources content moderation. Only this can address the real problem here: the business model fuelling disinformation.”

See coverage in Le Monde, and the New York Times.

The press release is available here.

AI Forensics’ latest investigation sheds light on a significant loophole in the moderation of political advertisements on Meta platforms, highlighting systemic failures just as the European Union heads into crucial parliamentary elections. Our findings uncover a sprawling pro-Russian influence operation that exploits these moderation failures, risking the integrity of democratic processes in Europe.

This comprehensive study scrutinizes Meta's Ad Library, which contains metadata on all advertisements targeting the EU since its expansion in August 2023 to comply with the EU’s new Digital Services Act. Over the past six months, our research detected numerous undeclared political ads among 30 million publications, revealing a shocking oversight with less than 5% of such ads being moderated appropriately.

Key Findings

  • Widespread Non-compliance: Less than 5% of undeclared political ads are caught by Meta's moderation system.
  • Ineffective Moderation: 60% of ads moderated by Meta do not adhere to their own guidelines concerning political advertising.
  • Significant Reach: A specific pro-Russian propaganda campaign reached over 38 million users in France and Germany, with most ads not being identified as political in a timely manner.
  • Rapid Adaptation: The influence operation has adeptly adjusted its messaging to major geopolitical events to further its narratives.

Our study highlights the urgency for robust enforcement of the Digital Services Act, as these findings pose a direct challenge to the EU's efforts to ensure fair and transparent elections. The ongoing misuse of digital platforms for political gain underscores the need for stringent oversight and proactive measures from both regulatory bodies and the platforms themselves.

We urge the European Commission to initiate infringement proceedings against Meta for its continuous neglect and to mandate all platforms to disclose ad contents in a transparency repository. This will not only facilitate external investigations but also ensure that political advertisements are clearly labeled and monitored more rigorously.