- Senators introduced a bipartisan bill cracking down on foreign attempts to interfere in US elections online.
- Companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others will be required to maintain a public file of paid political ads so people know what’s in them.
- The goal of the bill is to curb Russian meddling and prevent future manipulation and fake news on social media platforms.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on Thursday that would make it harder for outside agitators to meddle in future US elections.
It’s the first major step Congress has taken to regulate manipulative content on social media platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter since Russia tried to influence last year’s presidential election.
Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota unveiled the Honest Ads Act on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Klobuchar read a prepared statement by Republican Sen. John McCain, and added that Russia will continue to divide Americans unless Congress acts now.
“This isn’t about one election or one party,” Klobuchar said. “This is about our democracy.”
Last month, Facebook said that fake accounts “likely operated out of Russia” purchased thousands of ads during the US presidential election designed to amplify divisive political messages.
Warner called those reports of Russian interference on Facebook just “the tip of the iceberg.” He noted that such online attacks did not end with the 2016 presidential race. As recently as August, Twitter shut down a Russian-linked account that was pretending to be the Tennessee GOP, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Honest Ads Act would make political ad buying more transparent and ensure that political ads online are covered by the same rules as ads on TV and radio.
After the revelations of Russian political ads on Facebook, and under intense pressure from Congress and the public to do more about manipulative ads online, Facebook agreed to turn over more than 3,000 Russian-linked ads to congressional committees in order to aid in the wider investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
Axios initially reported details of the bill, which would amend the definition of electioneering communication in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 to include internet and digital advertisements.
Currently, Congress only regulates TV, radio, cable, and satellite political communications. The new bill would also require digital platforms to keep more detailed records of electioneering communications above certain thresholds.
Companies would have to archive digital copies of the ads and include specific information about the purchasers, their target audiences, views generated, and rates.