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 Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mark Warner (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 Shaheen (N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Chris Coons (Del.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), as well as Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). 

A spokesperson for Google was not immediately available for comment.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Angus King Chris Coons Christopher Coons Cory Booker Dianne Feinstein election advertising Google Jack Reed Jeanne Shaheen Mark Warner Mazie Hirono misinformation online advertising Senate Democrats Tammy Baldwin
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