House Democrat to introduce bill cracking down on ad targeting

House Democrat to introduce bill cracking down on ad targeting
© Greg Nash

Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Johns Hopkins's Jennifer Nuzzo says America needs public health crisis insurance to pay for COVID-19 victims; Protests, pandemic continue to ravage America Trump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting MORE (D-R.I.) is set to introduce legislation placing restrictions on political advertising on social media platforms.

The "Protecting Democracy from Disinformation Act" is aimed at limiting microtargeting, a method which uses consumer data and demographics to narrowly segment audiences.

The tactic has been criticized for allowing campaigns to avoid accountability by spreading misinformation to susceptible populations in ads not seen by the general public.

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Under Cicilline's legislation, advertisers would only be allowed to target political ads by age, gender and location.

The bill would also require disclosure of who paid for ads, how much they cost, who they targeted and who saw them.

Platforms would be held accountable via existing Federal Election Commission authority, the right of individuals to sue and criminal penalties.

“Microtargeting is a threat to our democracy. Campaigns and foreign actors can use this technology to manipulate voters with high volumes of misleading information that is virtually impossible to keep track of,” Cicilline said in a statement Thursday night. “The American people should choose their leaders, not sophisticated data firms or foreign adversaries that have their own agendas.”

Google last year announced it would no longer allow advertisers to microtarget political messaging, limiting available factors to age, gender and ZIP code, after pressure from critics and competitors.

Google’s ad platform, which brought in $116.3 billion in 2018 alone, has been a top destination for advertisers due to its ability to reach audiences with unprecedented specificity. 

Facebook this year decided to allow microtargeting to continue while increasing political ad transparency.

Twitter went a step further than both companies last year, banning political ads outright. However, the platform saw much less campaign advertising in the first place.