18 May 2021 – “Potential of transparency disclosures for citizen empowerment” Symposium

The DSA Observatory at the Institute for Information Law (IViR) and the Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR) jointly organized a symposium on the potential of transparency disclosures for citizen empowerment, scheduled to take place on 18 May, 4:005:30 pm.

Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic are staking a lot of hope on transparency measures to help users better evaluate political advertisingsource, veracity, and reach. Online political advertisements are often opaque with respect to targeting and sponsorship. Citizens may not realize in the first place that they are seeing a targeted political advertisement, not know that they were personally targeted, that the audience may be very small, or even who has sponsored the ad. As a result, people are poorly equipped to interpret and contextualize online political ads.

In an effort to empower citizens and to increase advertisersaccountability, lawmakers are demanding more advertising transparency through the use of labels and other forms of disclosure for online political advertisements. While the idea of disclosure notices is part of several bills and legislative proposals meant to improve ad transparency, the extent to which and in what shape disclosure notices are effective is currently understudied. This means that the online ad labelling provisions included in pieces of legislation now under discussion, such as the proposed Digital Services Act (DSA) Regulation, are not based on empirical evidence. It is therefore still an open question, if, and under which conditions, labels are an effective means of informing users about political microtargeting.

Indeed, novel research from the University of Amsterdam and Rutgers University finds that sponsorship disclosures on digital political ads often go unnoticed by users and have limited effect. This symposium brings together stakeholders from academia, policy and civil society to explore the potential of political advertising labels, and to discuss howto realize this potential.