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Concerns about draft EU political ad rules and freedom of expression

A video of people expressing their political opinions could be regulated as a “political ad” - even if they haven’t received any payment or sponsorship.

Next week, policymakers will start finalizing the EU’s new Regulation on Political Ads. While we share the overall goal of helping to build people's trust in the political ads they see online, we’re concerned that the law could go far beyond what many people would consider as a political ad. In fact, it could end up covering a wide range of political speech and content online - even videos from people just expressing their opinions without payment or sponsorship.

Whether this happens depends on a choice facing EU policymakers about how to define a “political ad” in the new law. The wide definition on the table could include any video that touches on societal issues and debate — from commentary on the energy crisis, human rights, to a discussion of the economy.

Once defined as a “political ad”, platforms like YouTube could then be limited in the use of recommendations to connect audiences to this content. Recommendations are the main way that we help our viewers discover relevant videos they may find useful or informative from the vast repository of content on YouTube.

We believe that the new rules on political advertising should only apply to paid-for political content and ads, rather than potentially all political content online. Changing how people find and connect to helpful political content would impact both viewers and creators:

A broad definition of political ads could ... make it harder for campaigns to find and recruit the next generation of NGO activists.

  • A diverse range of perspectives could be much harder to find

With over 500 hours of content uploaded on YouTube every minute, recommendations play a critical role in helping people discover content that is relevant to them. For creators, recommendations offer a chance to be discovered, build an audience, and mean that new voices and perspectives can break through. Effectively removing political content from recommendations could make it harder for a range of voices to be heard.

  • A barrier between NGOs and the next generation of activists

YouTube is a place where many people come to learn about the issues they care about, find community, and get involved in civil society. Campaigners on a wide range of issues, from climate change to LGBTQ+ rights, rely on the global platform they have through YouTube, to bring their cause to the largest viewing audience in the world. A broad definition of political ads could capture most NGO content, remove it from recommendations, and make it harder for campaigns to find and recruit the next generation of activists.

YouTube’s mission is to give everyone a voice and show them the world. When it comes to political issues, especially around election time, this means connecting people with high quality information, dealing with harmful content, and helping a diverse range of voices to be heard.

As this critical discussion continues, we’ll keep engaging with policymakers, creators, and partners on the details, while building on our own efforts to provide a platform for healthy political debate.