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 KlobucharHarris, CBC put weight behind activist-led National Black Voter Day Seven takeaways from California's recall election Live coverage: California voters to decide Newsom's fate MORE (D-Minn.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill 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.”

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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 ShaheenSenate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it Scott Brown's wife files to run for Congress MORE (N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake Bottom line MORE (Wis.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Hillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration MORE (Hawaii), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSenate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images Democrats press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts MORE (Del.), Jack ReedJack ReedTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake MORE (R.I.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinF-35 fighter jets may fall behind adversaries, House committee warns Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program MORE (N.J.), as well as Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise NY Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 in latest House breakthrough case MORE (I-Maine). 

A spokesperson for Google was not immediately available for comment.