Action seems to be on the horizon as a bipartisan group of federal regulators says it wants to impede Russia attempts to influence US elections. The group is proposing new legislation that would require companies including: Google, Twitter, and Facebook to fully disclose who is buying political advertisements on each platform and continue to maintain those records long after elections are over.
The Honest Ads Act would initially require Internet companies to follow similar rules for political advertising that now apply for TV, Radio, and Print media Facebook recently announced it found roughly 500 “inauthentic” accounts linked to Russian subversion via posts and ad purchases.
However, as Bloomberg News was quick to point out an Internet troll could easily mask their location and intentions to subvert the new law anyway. Jane Doe from a random location with a localized phone number would be able to buy any political ad they wanted, even if they were actually in Moscow working for the Russian government. The transaction would be recorded but would just show the fake name and other bogus user information.
“Unfortunately, US laws requiring transparency in political campaigns have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a statement. “Allowing our adversaries to take advantage of these loopholes to influence millions of American voters with impunity.”
“What we want to try to do is start with a light touch,” added Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) of the proposed bill.
The weakness of the measure in the real world, and implications of expanding these regulations to non-political ads is also a cause of concern. “So when I want to buy an ad on Facebook to sell a colon cleanse… now they have to report all my personal information to the government and store those records?” said one prominent online marketer we spoke with who asked to be anonymous. “It’s just another overreach and invasion of privacy, putting commercial entities in the middle and demanding they spy on American citizens under the auspices of national security… without any real hope of ancient people in Congress crafting a law that would actually protect our elections.”