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House lawmakers reintroduce bipartisan bill to weed out foreign disinformation on social media

House lawmakers reintroduce bipartisan bill to weed out foreign disinformation on social media
© Greg Nash

Reps. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Democrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic MORE (D-Va.) and John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoHouse-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Biden to meet with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure Federal agencies ordered to patch systems immediately following flaw in Microsoft app MORE (R-N.Y.) on Friday reintroduced legislation intended to cut down on foreign disinformation and propaganda spread on social media, in particular following a spike in the content after the presidential election and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement, or FADE, Act would attempt to address foreign disinformation by requiring the inclusion of disclaimers on political content on social media in the U.S. if they are funded by a foreign agent, with the disclaimers to remain if the post is shared. 

It would also require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to notify and require social media platforms to remove the content if the disclaimer is not included. 

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The bill would further expand language in the existing Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to require that political ads and other foreign-funded posts on social media meant to influence U.S. users must also be reported to the DOJ. FARA currently does not always extend to social media posts. 

The bill was first introduced by Spanberger and Katko last year, but did not make it out of committee. 

“The United States must be on guard against those who seek to sow division and spread false information,” Spanberger said in a statement on Friday. “Disclaimers on misleading, foreign-backed social media posts are often non-existent, particularly when content is shared or linked. In these instances, social media works as a rumor mill for disinformation.”

Spanberger, a former CIA officer, said that the legislation would assist in halting efforts by nations, including China, Russia and Iran, from spreading disinformation and misinformation, with all three nations taking an increasing interest in this over the past few years.

“By requiring foreign disclaimers within the actual content of social media posts, we can make sure the public knows the origins of information — and we can strengthen our democracy for the better,” she said. 

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Katko, who serves as ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a separate statement that he is reintroducing the legislation bearing in mind recent efforts by foreign adversaries to use “social media as a vehicle to deploy disinformation and interfere in our elections.”

“This legislation would establish enforceable tools to ensure visible disclaimers are included in political posts from foreign agents,” Katko said. “I urge my colleagues to support this measure to increase transparency, reduce the spread of disinformation, and protect our democratic processes from foreign influence.” 

The bill was introduced following a contentious election season during which both foreign and domestic sources sought to spread disinformation and misinformation around elections.

In October, federal officials warned that both Iran and Russia were seeking to interfere in the presidential election, with Iran using voter registration information to send threatening emails to voters in multiple states. 

Russia has been accused of engaging in a widespread effort to interfere in recent U.S. elections, most expansively in 2016, when Russian agents launched a sweeping and sophisticated effort on social media aimed at swaying the election toward now-former President TrumpDonald TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE 

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Katko previously served as the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee prior to taking over as the top Republican on the full panel, and last week released a statement outlining his priorities for the committee this year. 

He vowed that enhancing the nation’s cybersecurity would be a top priority, including enhancing election security, while also pledging to work to defend the nation against foreign adversaries.

"As a committee, we must proactively and aggressively combat authoritarian nation states — China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and beyond — that seek to strategically undermine our way of life,” Katko said. “Pacification and appeasement are not acceptable options.”