The Honest Ads Act would require social media and internet companies that have more than 50 million monthly users to make public detailed information about any political advertiser who spends over $500 on their platforms. It would require these companies to:
· Make public digital copies of any advertisement these groups purchase, including the dates and times published.
· Include a description of the audience and political ad target, and the number of times it was viewed.
· Disclose contact information for the ads’ purchaser, and how much they paid for the ad.
· Make “reasonable efforts” to ensure that any political ads or messaging isn’t purchased by a foreign national, directly or indirectly.
Political advertising on the internet is almost entirely unregulated in the US, despite strict rules that date back decades requiring broadcast television stations to disclose who is paying for political ads. When a commissioner from the Federal Election Commission suggested in 2014 that the same rules apply to political advertising on the internet, she was harassed online and off.
With the bill, the senators aren’t attempting to solve all problems related to propaganda on the internet, just the biggest one, said McGehee. The bill is “carefully crafted,” she said.
There’s no guarantee that the bill will pass, despite concern in Washington about Russia’s influence. Tech companies such as Facebook have spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years to lobby Congress, the Trump White House has been vehemently anti-regulation, and has called Russia’s interference in the election “fake.”