House passes Spanberger bill to crack down on foreign-backed disinformation, propaganda
The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass Seventh District Democrat Abigail Spanberger’s legislation to protect against the influence of foreign nations through online disinformation campaigns.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, political ads, issue advocacy and content funded or directed by a foreign principal and intended to influence the U.S. government or the American people must be disclosed to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The issue is that under current statute and practice, this restriction often does not extend to social media.
Spanberger’s Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement Act would increase transparency by requiring disclaimers attributing political content to a foreign principal be embedded on the face of a social media post itself. With this new requirement, disclaimers would remain with a post whenever the post is subsequently shared.
The FADE Act would also clarify that these disclaimer requirements apply to the internet and apply to any political communications directed at the United States — regardless of the foreign agent’s location around the world.
To ensure enforcement of new transparency measures, the FADE Act would specifically require DOJ to notify online platforms if a foreign agent does not meet disclaimer requirements for posts on their platforms, and in these cases, require the platform to remove the materials and use reasonable efforts to inform recipients of the materials that the information they saw was disseminated by a foreign agent.
Additionally, the bill would require DOJ to prepare a report to Congress on enforcement challenges.
Spanberger reintroduced a standalone version of this legislation in January alongside John Katko (R-NY-24).
Spanberger and Katko first introduced their legislation in October 2020.
“The FADE Act brings the Foreign Agents Registration Act into the 21st Century. This bill accounts for the unique characteristics of digital influence campaigns, clarifying that FARA applies even when a foreign agent is acting from abroad, and making clear that foreign agents must include disclaimers on all digital messages,” said Brendan Fischer, director of the Federal Reform Program at Campaign Legal Center. “This important measure led by Rep. Spanberger would protect Americans’ right to know when they are being influenced by foreign sources. Foreign actors seeking to influence U.S. politics online must at least be transparent about it.”
“Year after year, national security experts confirm that foreign adversaries are using social media, in addition to paid advertising, to spread disinformation meant to disrupt our political system. These activities cause Americans to distrust our democratic process,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director, Issue One. “The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement Act would take necessary steps toward stopping unpaid foreign-backed disinformation from influencing the American public. Issue One commends Congresswoman Spanberger for shepherding this much-needed legislation through the U.S. House and for calling on Congress to expeditiously address these threats.”
“It is time to update the Foreign Agents Registration Act to require disclosers of foreign agents operating online — to limit their ability to deceive and manipulate U.S. politics,” said Karen Kornbluh, director, Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative, German Marshall Fund of the United States, and former U.S. Ambassador to the OECD. “By requiring disclaimers for digital content and extending FARA to agents operating abroad, the FADE Act would empower Americans with the information they need to better protect themselves and democratic debate in the digital age — and I’m glad to see it pass in the House today thanks to the leadership of Rep. Spanberger.”