Two senators move to require digital platforms to disclose more about political spots and the buyers behind them.
By NANCY SCOLA, JOSH DAWSEY and ALI WATKINS
Facebook has agreed to provide details to congressional investigators about ads purchased by Russians to influence the 2016 presidential campaign, and on Thursday vowed greater transparency in political advertising. But some Democratic senators want to make those pledges mandatory.
The moves come amid mounting pressure from Congress to release the Russian-related ads, particularly criticism from Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Two people familiar with the matter disclosed the deal to POLITICO on Thursday shortly before Facebook announced it publicly.
Hours later, POLITICO obtained a letter from Warner and Sen. Amy Klobuchar seeking co-sponsors on proposed legislation that would require Facebook, Google and other digital platforms to disclose more information about political advertisements and the buyers behind them.
The two Democrats are writing legislation that would require web platforms with more than one million users to publicly disclose the names of individuals and organizations that spend more than $10,000 on election-related advertisements.
The sites would also have to provide a copy of the advertisement, and disclose details about the targeted audience, the number of people who view the ad, the time and date it was published, the amount of money charged and the buyer’s contract information.
Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Warner (D-Va.) say digital platforms merit further scrutiny because they reach much larger audiences than broadcasters, and yet are not subject to the same disclosure requirements.
In Facebook’s announcement of its deal with Capitol Hill investigators, CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to take further steps to protect “the integrity of free and fair elections.”
Warner called the decision “important & absolutely necessary first step,” writing on Twitter that “the American people deserve to know the truth about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”
In addition to disclosing details about the ads, which had been placed by a so-called Russian troll farm, Zuckerberg said his giant social media company would pursue a deeper internal investigation into how outside parties may have used its platform during 2016. Those parties include other Russian groups, former Soviet states and “the campaigns” — a seeming reference to the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton operations.
“We may find more, and if we do, we will continue to work with the government on it,” Zuckerberg said during remarks streamed on Facebook Live.
Moreover, said Zuckerberg, the company will newly require advertisers to both disclose their sponsorship of advertisements and post every version of their paid ads on their individual Facebook pages. Facebook will also double its team working on election integrity, and will inform election commissions around the world about the “online risks that we’ve identified in their specific elections.”
“We are in a new world,” he added. “It is a new challenge for internet communities to have to deal with nation states attempting to subvert elections. But if that’s what we must do, we are committed to rising to the occasion.”
The company separately released a statement from Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch describing the deal with Hill investigators. “We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election,” he said.
Thursday’s news represented the latest stage of acknowledgment by Facebook that Russians may have used ads and so-called “fake news” to influence the 2016 election, in a year when U.S. intelligence agencies have charged that Vladimir Putin’s government developed a preference for Trump to prevail over Clinton.
Former Clinton campaign aides hurled criticism at Facebook after her defeat, saying the company had allowed misinformation disparaging their candidate to flourish on the social network. “This is something we were very aware of [but] saw zero percent chance Facebook was going to be compliant or work with us during the election,” the Clinton campaign’s chief digital strategist, Teddy Goff, told POLITICO in the days after Trump’s victory.
Anger at Facebook among Clinton backers hasn’t let up. Clinton herself recently said in a television interview that the company has “a long way to go before they get where they need to be” when it comes to examining its role in the election.