Socialist party calls for ban on political ads via social media, as spending hits all-time high

Flemish socialist party Vooruit has called for a total ban on political parties advertising on social media. A report by citizen collective AdLens reported on Tuesday that Belgium's parties spent a total of 6 million euros on advertising on Facebook and Instagram in 2023, with far-right Vlaams Belang topping the list.

The proposal is contained in a bill submitted last week by Vooruit MP and party leader Melissa Depraetere. Last year, Belgian political party spending on Facebook and Instagram ads was 1 million euros higher than in 2022.

Vlaams Belang and Flemish nationalists N-VA were by far the biggest spenders. Vlaams Belang has been polling in recent months as the largest Flemish party in this year's elections.

Depraetere's bill is not a reaction to today's figures, she says. While it is logical for parties to share their views and proposals via social media, "the magnitude of the amounts spent on social media advertising today is completely abnormal", the proposal reads.

"The magnitude of the amounts spent on social media advertising today is completely abnormal"

Flemish green party Groen, in turn, has called for a spending cap, but this does not go far enough for Depraetere. She is calling for a total ban on paid advertising on social media, both during and outside the "blackout period" before elections, when stricter rules on communication already apply.

Risk of disinformation

Advertising via print, radio or television should, however, remain possible, says Depraetere. According to her proposal, social media platforms do not apply the same quality and transparency requirements as radio and television. Moreover, they use algorithms and methods that carry a high risk of disinformation, psychological influence and deception.

According to the AdLens report, Vlaams Belang overtook N-VA as the biggest advertiser in 2023, spending almost 1.7 million euros. That represents a 44 per cent increase on the previous year. N-VA spent just 8,000 euros less than Vlaams Belang, and 2 per cent less than it did in 2022.

Some distance behind them in third place is the far-left party PVDA which spent 637,752 euros on its Dutch-language pages (+43 per cent) and 179,682 euros on its French pages. Despite a 28 per cent drop in spending, it was the highest spender among francophone parties.

Vooruit was in fourth place, spending 418,640 euros, or an increase of 46 per cent on 2022.


Vooruit's Melissa Depraetere © BELGA PHOTO JASPER JACOBS

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