Spanberger, Katko introduce legislation to crack down on election disinformation

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Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and John Katko (R-NY-24) have introduced bipartisan legislation to protect against the influence of foreign nations that seek to weaken the U.S. electoral system and sow division through online disinformation campaigns.

Amid COVID-19 and a general election, foreign governments are looking to disrupt the U.S. democratic system and exploit existing vulnerabilities in U.S. national security. Foreign adversaries — such as Russia, China, and Iran — are among the most active and increasingly assertive in their efforts.

An August statement from the U.S. Intelligence Community reported that, “ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, foreign states will continue to use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process.”

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.

However, under current statute and practice, this often does not extend to social media. Additionally, foreign agents acting from abroad too often evade disclaimer requirements.

The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement (FADE) 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.

“As a former CIA officer, I know that our nation is always under siege from foreign adversaries who seek to sow division and spread false information. However, social media networks remain especially vulnerable to foreign campaigns. Disclaimers on social media posts are often non-existent, particularly when content is shared or linked. This means that social media can serve as an ideal rumor mill for disinformation, as nefarious actors are able to leverage the rapid transfer of information from person to person,” said Spanberger. “The FADE Act would help stop foreign adversaries like China and Russia from disseminating propaganda across Americans’ social media feeds — and I’d like to thank Congressman Katko for joining this effort to protect the integrity of our elections. By requiring foreign disclaimers within the actual content of social media posts, we can increase transparency, give the public accurate information about the sources of these campaigns, and strengthen our democracy.”

“Combating foreign election interference needs to be a bipartisan issue. Ahead of November’s Election, we need to prevent our nation’s enemies from using social media as a vehicle to deploy disinformation. With this in mind, I’m joining Rep. Spanberger in introducing the Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement (FADE) Act,” said Katko. “This legislation would establish enforceable tools to ensure visible disclaimers are included in political posts from foreign agents. I urge my colleagues to support this measure to increase transparency, reduce the spread of disinformation, and protect our democratic processes from foreign influence.”

To ensure enforcement of these new transparency measures, the FADE Act would 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 bipartisan bill would require DOJ to prepare a report to Congress on enforcement challenges.

“The FADE Act brings the Foreign Agents Registration Act into the 21st Century. The FADE Act 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 Federal Reform Program at the Campaign Legal Center. “The bill is an important bipartisan measure that protects 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.”

“It is time to update 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 of the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at the 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 information they need to better protect themselves and  democratic debate in the digital age.”

“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 of Issue One. “The bipartisan Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement Act would take necessary steps toward stopping unpaid foreign-backed disinformation from influencing the American public. Issue One commends Representatives Spanberger and Katko for introducing this much-needed legislation and calls on Congress to expeditiously address these threats.”

The FADE Act is endorsed by the Campaign Legal Center and Issue One.

Click here to read the full bill text.


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