Bill to halt election meddling on social media introduced
Bipartisan legislation to boost social media ad transparency and curb foreign influence in elections was introduced Thursday, the latest congressional response to the role of Russian hackers using Facebook and other social media to influence the 2016 election.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), along with Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), are supporting the bill, which aims to put social media companies on par with radio and TV in their disclosure requirements.
Klobuchar had earlier told reporters that they do not have the support of tech companies on the legislation. Warner said that he is still hopeful they will change tact.
“It’s our hope that social media companies, the platform companies will work with us,” Warner said. “The leadership of Facebook recently said they’ll do everything they can to keep our community safe from interference. If they believe those statements, [they should] work with us to get these common sense, light-touch regulations in place.”
The proposed legislation will affect websites, apps, search engines, social media and ad networks with over 50 million unique visitors.
Such platforms would be required to provide data on campaigns that spend at least $500 on political ads a year. Necessary information would include copies of ads, information about groups purchasing ads and data on who the ads may have targeted.
Additionally, like TV regulations, the social media ads must clearly show who is funding such content.
The ads encompass paid political advertisements on these digital platforms, made by or on behalf of candidates or encompassing national issues.
It remains to be seen if the bill will have a path forward amid a crowded docket of legislative priorities that lawmakers are pushing to get done by the end of the year.
When asked by reporters on the bill’s likelihood of passing, Warner deflected the question, stressing that the issues the bill would fix are matters of national security.
According to the lawmakers, some technology firms have said that they’re interested in voluntarily imposing their own transparency rules, but to Warner and Klobuchar, opting in isn’t enough.
“The problem is, it has to cover everyone. You can’t just have a few companies doing it voluntarily. You also want to have it be in our laws,” Klobuchar said. “I just cannot justify as a U.S. senator that you would apply one set of laws to one media outlet — to TV, radio and print — and then apply another set to another.”
Lawmakers have clashed with technology companies since Facebook revealed that Russian actors purchased 3,000 ads on its platform around the time of the 2016 election. Warner and others charged that Facebook was not being forthcoming as to the extent of Russian influence on its platform. He later hammered Twitter for its “disappointing” briefing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying that wanted the company to offer a more detailed analysis of influence on its platform.
On Thursday, Warner said he feels as though technology companies are being more cooperative but thinks that details of Russian influence are still incomplete.
“I still believe that [Facebook’s disclosures] are just the tip of the iceberg. “These were the ads that were paid for in rubles. We have not been able to sift through whether some of these same accounts may have been smart enough to use dollars, euros or pounds.”
Warner and other lawmakers will have the chance to press the companies further during back-to-back House and Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on Nov. 1.