Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation

Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation
© Bonnie Cash

Senate Democrats on Monday urged Google to improve its ad policies regarding election disinformation and voter suppression, accusing the company of failing even to enforce its own “inadequate” policy. 

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGoogle completes Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: Fringe social networks boosted after Capitol attack | Planned protests spark fears of violence in Trump's final days | Election security efforts likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots MORE (D-Minn.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSocial media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed MORE (D-Va.) led the group of 11 senators in a letter that called on the tech giant to strengthen the enforcement of its policies regarding election-related disinformation, including rejecting all ads spreading election disinformation and stopping ad services on websites that spread false information. 

“Google continues to operate with a narrow and incomprehensive political ads policy that has major loopholes. It is also failing to enforce even this inadequate policy,” the senators wrote. “As a result, the company is profiting from ads that spread voting and election disinformation and helping disinformation sites profit from their lies. Our democracy deserves better.”


Google’s ad policy prohibits “making demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process,” according to a company update from last year. The update states that it is against the company’s policies for “any advertiser to make a false claim — whether it’s a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message.”

Despite Google’s policy, the senators cited a study published by The Global Disinformation Index (GDI) in October that found Google services ads on 145 out of 200 websites GDI examines that publish disinformation. 

The letter also cites a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) that found Google has placed ads on websites publishing disinformation that aimed at undermining elections. CCDH estimated that through placing ads on six websites publishing election disinformation, Google made about $1.6 million in annual revenue. 

The senators also questioned Google over its reported refusal to remove ads that promoted false information about mail-in ballots in battleground states, including Arizona and Georgia. 

The letter sent Monday is the latest action taken by lawmakers in calling for tech giants to clamp down on disinformation on their platforms. Democrats have long been urging Google, as well as social media giants Facebook and Twitter, to take further action to mitigate the spread of disinformation on their platforms. 

Monday’s letter was also signed by Democratic Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBipartisan group of senators: The election is over Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 How Congress dismissed women's empowerment MORE (N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSeven Senate races to watch in 2022 Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation Senate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  MORE (Wis.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senator raises concerns about inauguration security Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation Senate gears up for battle over Barr's new special counsel MORE (Hawaii), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster Security concerns mount ahead of Biden inauguration Trump impeachment collides with Biden's agenda MORE (Del.), Jack ReedJack ReedWhat to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing Congress overrides Trump veto for the first time Biden calls for the nation to 'unite, heal and rebuild in 2021' MORE (R.I.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBottom line Trump vetoes bipartisan driftnet fishing bill Dumping Abraham Lincoln? A word of advice to the 'cancel culture' MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory BookerOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Booker: It would be 'constitutionally dangerous' not to conduct full Trump impeachment trial MORE (N.J.), as well as Sen. Angus KingAngus KingAngus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE (I-Maine). 

A spokesperson for Google was not immediately available for comment.