The Senate Intelligence Committee report examines Russia’s efforts to use social media to sow societal discord and influence the outcome of the 2016 election and urges Congress to “examine legislative approaches to ensuring Americans know the sources of online political advertisements”

The Honest Ads Act would help prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections, sent a letter today to Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) urging him to immediately schedule a markup of the Honest Ads Act. The legislation, also led by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements. The letter follows publication of the Select Committee on Intelligence’s new report titled, “Russia’s Use of Social Media,” which specifically urges Congress to “examine legislative approaches to ensuring Americans know the sources of online political advertisements.”

“In addition to providing information on how Russia carried out its attack, the Report makes a series of recommendations for how Congress can work to combat the spread of disinformation,” Klobuchar wrote. “I agree with the Committee’s recommendation and have introduced bipartisan legislation with Chairman Graham, the Honest Ads Act, legislation that would ensure political and issue ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on tv, radio, and satellite.

“There is strong bipartisan support for the Honest Ads Act because people have a right to know who is behind the political ads that target them and it defies logic to argue that there should be no rules for ads sold online, especially when so much money is being spent on digital ads.

“Our top intelligence and law enforcement officials continue to sound the alarm that foreign adversaries are currently using social media platforms to interfere in our political system and today’s report reinforces that fact. Time is of the essence for us to take action. I strongly urge you to schedule a markup of the Honest Ads Act as soon as possible.”

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 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 satellite, enhancing the integrity of our democracy.

The full text of today’s letter can be found here and below:                                                                        

Dear Chairman Blunt:

In light of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report titled “Russia’s Use of Social Media” release today, I write to respectfully request that you schedule an immediate markup of the Honest Ads Act.  

The Intelligence Committee published a second report (volume II) on its bipartisan investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. As a member of the Intelligence Committee, you know better than most that the Committee’s investigation and the associated reports have been conducted in a bipartisan fashion with the goal of getting to the bottom of how Russia attacked our democracy so that we can prevent future attacks. The report issued today specifically addresses how the Russian government worked to exploit social media platforms to spread disinformation, divide Americans, and undermine our democracy.

In addition to providing information on how Russia carried out its attack, the Report makes a series of recommendations for how Congress can work to combat the spread of disinformation. Specifically, the Report urges Congress to “examine legislative approaches to ensuring Americans know the sources of online political advertisements.” Page 80 of the report contains the following recommendation:

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 requires political advertisements on television, radio and satellite to disclose the sponsor of the advertisement. The same requirements should apply online. This will also help to ensure that the IRA or any similarly situated actors cannot use paid advertisements for purposes of foreign interference.

I agree with the Committee’s recommendation and have introduced bipartisan legislation with Chairman Graham, the Honest Ads Act, legislation that would ensure political and issue ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on tv, radio, and satellite. The Honest Ads Act has broad support from non-partisan experts on disinformation campaigns and transparency in political advertising. Companion legislation in the House of Representatives is led by Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and is supported by a large bipartisan group of cosponsors.

There is strong bipartisan support for the Honest Ads Act because people have a right to know who is behind the political ads that target them and it defies logic to argue that there should be no rules for ads sold online, especially when so much money is being spent on digital ads.

As the 2020 elections approach, experts estimate that billions will be spent on online political ads and the reach of online platforms far surpasses that of broadcast, satellite, and tv. The largest internet platform has over 210 million American users. The largest cable provider only has 22 million subscribers – nearly an order of magnitude greater. By requiring the same rules across all advertising platforms, we can limit foreign attempts to influence our elections, increase transparency in political advertising, and promote greater accountability.

Many online platforms recognize that they have a duty to address the problem and have begun to voluntarily comply with the Honest Ads Act. While this is a positive step, it is not a substitute for passing legislation and has created a patchwork of solutions whereby there are no standards for transparency and no accountability for advertisers and platforms. This is an unacceptable status quo for our democracy.

Our top intelligence and law enforcement officials continue to sound the alarm that foreign adversaries are currently using social media platforms to interfere in our political system and today’s report reinforces that fact. Time is of the essence for us to take action. I strongly urge you to schedule a markup of the Honest Ads Act as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

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