As tech companies face continued scrutiny over Russian activity on their ad platforms, Senators today announced legislation meant to regulate political ads on the internet.
The Honest Ads Act would create new rules for online political ads
The new bill, called the Honest Ads Act, would require companies like Facebook and Google to keep copies of political ads and make them publicly available. Under the act, the companies would also be required to release information on who those ads were targeted to, as well as information on the buyer and the rates charged for the ads. The new rules would bring disclosure rules more in line with how political ads are regulated in mediums like print and TV, and apply to any platform with more than 50 million monthly viewers. The companies would be required to keep and release data on anyone spending more than $500 on political ads in a year.
It’s unclear how well the bill will fare. Companies like Facebook have been successfully fighting regulations for years. But this latest attempt has some bipartisan support: the act, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) is also co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). “Americans deserve to know who’s paying for the online ads,” Klobuchar said at a press conference announcing the legislation.
“We stand with lawmakers in their effort to achieve transparency in political advertising,” Facebook’s vice president of US public policy said in a statement. “We have already announced the steps Facebook will take on our own and we look forward to continuing the conversation with lawmakers as we work toward a legislative solution.” A Twitter spokesperson said the company looks forward “to engaging with Congress and the FEC on these issues." A Google spokesperson said the company is evaluating steps we can take on our own platforms and will work closely with lawmakers, the FEC, and the industry to explore the best solutions.”
The bill is only the latest fallout from the ongoing Russian ad scandal. After Facebook disclosed that Russia-linked propaganda ads were sold by the company, Twitter followed with its own announcement, and Google has reportedly made similar findings. The FEC is meanwhile reconsidering its own approach to regulating online ads, and both chambers of Congress are conducting investigations into how the tech companies’ platforms were used by Russia. (The act also requires those companies to make “reasonable efforts” to not sell ads to foreign governments.)
Last month, as criticism of Facebook intensified, Mark Zuckerberg said the company would make voluntary changes to how it handles political ads, in a move that may have been an attempt to head off forced regulation, like the bill now on the table.