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Lawmakers introduce bill targeting foreign disinformation on social media

Lawmakers introduce bill targeting foreign disinformation on social media
© Greg Nash

Reps. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerDuring pandemic, 'telehealth' emerging as important lifeline to connect patients with caregivers Chamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Spanberger's GOP challenger raises over .8 million in third quarter MORE (D-Va.) and John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoWarren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates Trump fuels and frustrates COVID-19 relief talks Trump says talks on COVID-19 aid are now 'working out' MORE (R-N.Y.) on Thursday introduced legislation intended to cut down on foreign disinformation on social media ahead of the election.

The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement (FADE) Act targets influence campaigns by requiring political content on social media to include a disclaimer if it is produced or sponsored by foreign groups, with the disclaimers remaining if the post is shared. 

The legislation would also expand language in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to clarify that political ads and other content funded by a foreign source posted to social media that is meant to influence U.S. citizens must also be reported to the Department of Justice. FARA currently generally does not extend to social media posts. 

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The Department of Justice would also be required to notify social media platforms if posts that fall under the bill do not have disclaimers, with the agency then directing the social media groups to remove the posts. 

Spanberger, a former CIA officer, said Thursday that “our nation is always under siege from foreign adversaries who seek to sow division and spread false information. However, social media networks remain especially vulnerable to foreign campaigns.” 

“Disclaimers on social media posts are often non-existent, particularly when content is shared or linked,” Spanberger said in a statement. “This means that social media can serve as an ideal rumor mill for disinformation, as nefarious actors are able to leverage the rapid transfer of information from person to person.” 

“By requiring foreign disclaimers within the actual content of social media posts, we can increase transparency, give the public accurate information about the sources of these campaigns, and strengthen our democracy,” she added. 

Katko serves as the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee, which addresses election security concerns.  

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“Combating foreign election interference needs to be a bipartisan issue,” Katko said in a statement Thursday. “Ahead of November’s Election, we need to prevent our nation’s enemies from using social media as a vehicle to deploy disinformation.” 

“I urge my colleagues to support this measure to increase transparency, reduce the spread of disinformation, and protect our democratic processes from foreign influence,” he said.  

Concerns over foreign disinformation on social media have been long standing, and have increased during the buildup to the November presidential election. Russia used a wide-ranging influence campaign in the lead up to the 2016 elections intended to sway the election in favor of now-President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE that included posts on Twitter and Facebook.  

A senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned in an assessment released in August that Russia, China and Iran were seeking to interfere in the presidential election, specifically noting that Russia and Iran were using social media as a tool in their efforts.  

Experts from the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States, Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center all voiced support for the bill Thursday.  

“It is time to update Foreign Agents Registration Act to require disclosers of foreign agents operating online – to limit their ability to deceive and manipulate U.S. politics,” Karen Kornbluh, director of the GMF’s Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative and former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said in a statement. 

“By requiring disclaimers for digital content and extending FARA to agents operating abroad, the FADE Act would empower Americans with information they need to better protect themselves and  democratic debate in the digital age,” Kornbluh said.  

A similar piece of legislation was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators earlier this year which would require foreign media outlets to disclose if they are foreign agents.