The U.S. government might finally take action on Russian election meddling by going after these tech giants
New legislation is officially on the table that could force Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the rest of the internet to do more to combat Russian election meddling.
Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner, with support from Republican Sen. John McCain, have co-sponsored a bill called the “Honest Ads Act” that would require internet companies to keep a public database of who is paying for political ads on their networks. The bill also requires companies to do a better job at policing their sites and preventing foreign interference like what occurred during the 2016 election.
Tech companies would have to disclose copies of ads and any relevant data pertaining to any campaign that plans to spend more than $500 on political ads every year. The platforms must keep a record of what organizations purchased the ads, the audience that saw the ads, and how much was spent on each individual ad buy.
That database could then conceivably be used by election watchdogs and the U.S. government to look out for foreign meddling—and push tech companies to act quickly.
This act comes amid an ongoing investigation into how Russian groups interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Facebook disclosed in September that 3,000 ads sold during the election were linked to Russian accounts. Since then, Twitter and Google have identified similar use of their platforms. Russia reportedly even tapped Pokémon Go to meddle in the election.
“Our democracy is at risk. Russia attacked our elections, and they and other foreign powers and interests will continue to divide our country if we don’t act now,” Sen. Klobuchar said in a press conference about the new bill Thursday.
In statements, Facebook and Twitter didn’t endorse the bill but also didn’t oppose it.
The Honest Ads Act would regulate online political ads in similar ways to those broadcast on television and radio station as well as in print. The rules would affect any website, search engine, social network, or ad network that has 50 million or more unique visitors most months in a year, Recode reported.
.@MarkWarner, @SenJohnMcCain & I put together #HonestAds bill to make public who bought an online political ad—the same rule as TV ads.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) October 19, 2017
Such a move by lawmakers is long overdue, according to Sen. Klobuchar. At the press conference, Sen. Klobuchar cited how Facebook and Google account for 85 percent of every dollar spent on digital and how Facebook’s more than 200 million U.S. users exceeds the number of subscribers of the largest cable provider.
“America deserves to know who is paying for the online ads,” she said. “We should still be updating our laws. Our laws should be as sophisticated as those who are trying to manipulate us or break the law.”
Indeed, Facebook has long wanted to be seen as a competitor to traditional television. New regulation of its advertising would put them on par when it comes to elections.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last month his company is committed to better regulating its advertising process prior to any official government rules. The social media giant has taken more aggressive action to remove fake accounts and analyze for other misinformation, as it showed during the German election. It also increased its efforts to combat fake news for the French election and the Kenyan election.
The tech industry has been mobilizing a team of lobbyists and lawyers to help shape the new bill. Marc Elias, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, is helping the tech giants, theNew York Times reported Thursday.
Of course, a new law wouldn’t change everything. Not every manipulation on a social network is a political ad. A recent BuzzFeed report revealed a fake account masquerading as the Tennessee Republican Party spread misinformation and was linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency—believed to have been the source of many of the country’s election intrusions.
don’t expect the “honest ads act” to dramatically rein in unmonitored political activity on fb, etc; it’s addressing a much narrower issue
— noah kulwin (@nkulw) October 18, 2017
On Nov. 1, representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter will testify to Congress on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Facebook revealed Thursday the company’s general counsel Colin Stretch will testify and not Zuckerberg or COO Sheryl Sandberg. Twitter also plans to send its general counsel, Sean Edgett,Recode reported.
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