Responding to growing revelations about the scale of the Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election over social media, a pair of Senate Democrats introduced a bill Thursday to force Facebook and other social media companies to disclose more details about political ads on their platforms.
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The proposal from Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, which is also backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, would update existing election law governing political television and radio ads to also include digital ads.
It would also require platforms to keep a public file on any ads from groups and people spending more than $500 -– which would include copies of the ads, the number of views, and contact information for the purchaser. Facebook revealed earlier this month that fake accounts linked to a Russian company spent $100,000 on roughly 3,000 political ads on the platform, a disclosure Warner referred to as the “tip of the iceberg.”
While Facebook, Twitter and other social media sights have fought regulation efforts on Capitol Hill in the past, the companies have pledged to do a better job self-policing their platforms. Klobuchar said any changes should be written in into law. “It has to cover everyone. you can't just have a few companies doing it voluntarily,” she said.
A Facebook spokesman said the company is open to working with lawmakers and reviewing the proposal.
“We look forward to engaging with Congress and the Federal Election Commission on these issues,” a Twitter spokesman said.
The legislative push comes amid new fears that the United States has done little to address concerns about Russian interference in the U.S. election ahead of gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, and the 2018 midterm elections.
“Our next election is only 383 days away, Russia will keep trying to divide our country,” Klobuchar said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, said the United States is “probably not” doing enough to defend against future meddling by Russia and other foreign powers. “We’re not,” Sessions said. “It requires a real review.”
Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the United States still lacks a “whole-of-government approach” to addressing foreign interference.
“Many members of the Trump administration acknowledge this problem,” he said. “I don't think we are helped in terms of making Americans fully aware when the president continues to dismiss the evidence of Russian intervention.”
He also said the Russian efforts are still underway, citing a report that Twitter suspended a fake account purporting to be the Tennessee Republican party that linked to a Russian-backed “troll farm.”
The senators hope to pass the legislation early in 2018, ahead of the midterm primary elections. They suggested it could make it through the Senate as part of a larger legislative package -- potentially from the Senate Armed Services Committee led by McCain, who is also a longtime advocate of transparency in campaign finance.