U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA), authors of the Honest Ads Act, urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to address significant apparent loopholes in Facebook’s ads transparency tool.
Earlier this week, Vice News published a story about their reporters’ experiences in buying political ads on Facebook. The reporters found that while Facebook’s transparency tool required them to verify their identification and U.S. addresses before they could buy ads, once they were verified, the reporters were able to post divisive ads and lie about who paid for them. ProPublica also issued a report detailing how corporations have been able to hide sponsorship of ads on Facebook. While Facebook committed to implementing transparency measures similar to those that the Honest Ads Act would require, they are currently failing to carry out the basic disclosure and disclaimer provisions of the legislation. The major gaps existing in Facebook’s transparency tool could allow adversaries to exploit the platform with continued disinformation efforts.
“The fact that Facebook’s new security tools allow users to intentionally misidentify who placed political ads is unacceptable. That Facebook is unable to recognize ads connected to a well-established foreign interference operation is also deeply troubling. Both point to a central vulnerability that enable these kinds of ads: Facebook’s failure to utilize human reviewers of the political ads it sells,” the senators wrote. “Free and fair elections require both transparency and accountability which give the public a right to know the true sources of funding for political advertisements in order to make informed political choices and hold elected officials accountable. However, it is clear that there are significant loopholes with regard to how Facebook sells ads and the process by which disclaimers are applied to political ads.”
“We strongly urge you to take every step necessary to close these loopholes in the transparency tool.”
Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act, which was also sponsored by the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), would prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and print.
The Honest Ads Act would enhance the integrity of our democracy by improving disclosure requirements for online political advertisements by:
- Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements and requiring proper disclaimers on both electioneering communications and issue ads.
- Requiring digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500.00 total on ads published on their platform. The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser.
- Requiring online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.