Elections Regulator Urged to Step Up on Digital Advertising

WASHINGTON (CN) — Blaming the regulatory quicksand for the flood of Russian propaganda in last year’s presidential election, a campaign watchdog group urged the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday to tighten up disclaimer rules.

“The time is long overdue for the FEC to shore up the vulnerabilities that were exploited by foreign actors in the 2016 elections,” Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center said in a statement accompanying comments the group submitted to the FEC.

“A political ad run on TV must include a disclaimer telling voters who paid for it, and the FEC should clarify that disclaimer rules still apply when the same ad is run on the Internet,” Fischer added.

Fischer’s group notes that digital advertising has ballooned rapidly since Facebook requested an advisory opinion from the FEC in 2011.

“According to a report by Borrell Associates, only 1.7 percent of political ads were digital in 2012,” the comments to the FEC say. “In 2016, 14.4 percent were. In absolute terms, this translated into $1.4 billion spent on digital ads in 2016, up from a mere $159.8 million in 2012.”

Thousands of these ads came from Russia, the Campaign Legal Center notes, but they lacked any information about who paid for them.

“Russia reached potentially hundreds of millions of Americans with thousands of digital advertisements aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. elections,” the comments state. “This included at least 3,000 political ads on Facebook that reached at least 10 million people, 150 ads on Instagram, and ads on Google, YouTube, Gmail, Twitter, and even Pokemon Go.”

Though initially indignant about the potential of manipulation by foreign actors, Facebook and Google admitted last week that their platforms were manipulated during the election last year by Russian sources.

The companies vowed to do better on transparency but their attorneys sowed in refusing before Congress to give concrete examples of what can be improved.

“We’re going to require more thorough documentation from advertisers who want to run election-related ads,” Joel Kaplan, vice president of public policy at Facebook, said in a statement. “We are starting with federal elections in the U.S. and will progress from there to additional contests and elections in other countries and jurisdictions. As part of the documentation process, advertisers may be required to identify that they are running election-related advertising and verify both their entity and location.”

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