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Rhineland-Palatinate: Green Ministry of the Environment relied on spying advertising

The faux pas that became known shortly before the federal election at the end of September that the Rhineland-Palatinate Environment Ministry, led by the Greens, had targeted an advertisement on Facebook via microtargeting to those interested in the party, is expanding. According to research by the SWR, it was not an unfortunate individual case, but a common practice since September 2018. Legal experts consider this advertising method on behalf of a government institution to be unconstitutional.

ZDF presenter Jan Böhmermann had uncovered the use of microtargeting in the “Neo Magazin Royale” two days before the polls in a corresponding advertisement on the social network. The Ministry of the Environment admitted to the SWR nowthat it was the rule: only in exceptional cases was the target group characteristic “interested in the party Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen” not used in Facebook advertising beyond preferences for environmental and climate protection, for example.

In the past three years, around 130 social media ads of this type have been placed, according to the department. For this, around 9,400 euros flowed from the state treasury. The practice is said to have started under the Green Minister Ulrike Höfken and was continued until recently under her successor Anne Spiegel. The minister herself had no knowledge of it.

The environmental department quickly stopped targeting those interested in the Greens after the Böhmermann show. The criticism of the form of advertising was justified, it announced the following day to the ARD broadcaster. “That is why we turned them off immediately after the notification and made sure that such a target group selection no longer takes place in the future.” A forbidden party advertising did not take place, was a later addition. No direct advertising for individual political groups was made in the Facebook posts.

In the meantime, the ministry has drawn further conclusions. State Secretary for the Environment Erwin Manz emphasized to the SWR that the department would not place any more advertisements on Facebook until further notice. “We have become really more cautious,” said the Green man. A working group should “completely put the social media activities of the ministry to the test”. The target group selection on the platform was “a mistake”.

Sophie Schönberger, an expert on party law at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, considers the procedure to be illegal. “State public relations work must be politically neutral,” the law professor told the broadcaster. This also applies to the selection of the target group, she referred to the principle of democracy anchored in the Basic Law. State public relations work is generally only permissible if it serves as a whole to strengthen citizens’ trust in democracy, the state and its institutions.

The Viennese constitutional lawyer Diana zu Hohenlohe mainly criticizes the fact that the microtargeting also took place during the federal election campaign: An authority that addresses certain people on social networks with political advertising at such a time is active as part of the campaign team at the top of the institution. This is not constitutionally permissible.

Other lawyers do not rule out that illegal party donations could be involved and that other political groups could be involved in organ charges. The head of the Rhineland-Palatinate CDU parliamentary group, Christian Baldauf, described the Ministry of Environment’s actions as “monstrous” and called for a parliamentary and legal examination.

In the EU Parliament, the Greens are part of a cross-factional coalition against surveillance and tracking through online ads. Spy advertising with profiling and microtargeting should therefore no longer be permitted in all member states. With the planned Digital Services Act (DSA), through which the power of the online giants is to be restricted, there is a great chance, according to the alliance, of “banning spying advertising from Europe by law”. Numerous human and civil rights organizations support this appeal.


(tiw)

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