The US Congress wants to regulate Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other internet companies like broadcasting companies.
Three US senators introduced the “Honest Ads Act” Oct. 19 that would essentially make these companies follow the same standards for political advertising that broadcast television and radio stations in the America have followed for decades, according to a press release.
John McCain, the Republican from Arizona, has joined Democrats Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and Virginia’s Mark Warner in sponsoring the bill. McCain, a long-time Russia hawk, earlier called Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US election part of a “long-term campaign” by president Vladimir Putin to weaken the US, destabilize Europe, and “undermine confidence in Western values.”
Meredith McGehee, chief of policy at Issue One, a non-profit trying to reduce the influence of money in US elections, said introduction of the bill could be a first effort to greater regulate the big tech platforms that now dominate digital media and advertising.
Facebook said in September that users linked to a Russian troll farm spent $100,000 to purchase thousands of political ads on its site. They could have been seen by as many as 25 million Facebook users, CNBC estimates. Twitter, Pinterest, and Google also found Russian-linked political ads or posts.
The Honest Ads Act would require social media and internet companies that have more than 50 million monthly users to make public detailed information about any political advertiser who spends over $500 on their platforms. It would require these companies to:
- Make public digital copies of any advertisement these groups purchase, including the dates and times published.
- Include a description of the audience and political ad target, and the number of times it was viewed.
- Disclose contact information for the ads’ purchaser, and how much they paid for the ad.
- Make “reasonable efforts” to ensure that any political ads or messaging isn’t purchased by a foreign national, directly or indirectly.
Political advertising on the internet is almost entirely unregulated in the US, despite strict rules that date back decades requiring broadcast television stations to disclose who is paying for political ads. When a commissioner from the Federal Election Commission suggested in 2014 that the same rules apply to political advertising on the internet, she was harassed online and off.
With the bill, the senators aren’t attempting to solve all problems related to propaganda on the internet, just the biggest one, said McGehee. The bill is “carefully crafted,” she said.
There’s no guarantee that the bill will pass, despite concern in Washington about Russia’s influence. Tech companies such as Facebook have spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years to lobby Congress, the Trump White House has been vehemently anti-regulation, and has called Russia’s interference in the election “fake.”
A Facebook spokesman told Quartz the company is “open to working with lawmakers and reviewing any reasonable legislative proposals.”
This story has been updated with details of the proposed bill.