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Senators to introduce bipartisan bill to boost internet ad transparency

20 October 2017

USA legislation that would impose new disclosure requirements on political ads that run on Facebook and other websites received support on Wednesday from Senator John McCain, giving a bipartisan boost to a bill already popular among Democrats. It would require greater disclosure about online political ads, putting the World Wide Web more in-line with radio and TV.

"Americans deserve to know who's paying for the online ads and, honestly, even if the Russian interference had not occurred, we should still be updating our laws", Klobuchar said during a press conference Thursday.

In the past, technology companies have resisted attempts to force them into disclosing information about paid advertisers, although some have said they would cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the election.

And within Congress, the bill might struggle to advance.

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"We need regulatory rules, a framework, that shields our elections from foreign money", Klobuchar said. Federal regulations now require television and radio stations to make publicly available the details of political ads they air. Other platforms, such as Twitter, have also come under increased scrutiny recently for Kremlin-linked activity on their sites during the election. The move comes after Facebook revealed that ads that ran on the company's social media platform and have been linked to a Russian internet agency were seen by an estimated 10 million people before and after the 2016 election.

"Ensuring transparency and accountability remain encoded into our democracy in the 21st century has taken on new importance and relevance in the wake of the 2016 election", said Alexander B. Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, which has been a loud voice for campaign reforms, including heightened disclosures for political ads.

Facebook said in a statement from its USA public policy vice president, Erin Egan, that it stood "with lawmakers in their effort to achieve transparency in political advertising" and that it looked "forward to continuing the conversation with lawmakers as we work toward a legislative solution". Warner said Thursday that "it is in their own self interest to work with us", pointing to the consumer trust that those companies depend on, and called the legislation a "light touch approach". Warner is the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

McCain, for his part, says he won't be lobbying fellow Republicans to join him in supporting the bill.

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Representatives of Google, Facebook, and Twitter are expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next month.

"I think that they got the message", Warner said.

"We stand with lawmakers in their effort to achieve transparency in political advertising", Erin Egan, Facebook vice president for United States public policy, said in a statement after Warner and Klobuchar introduced their bill.

The new online ad disclosure rules would cover everything from promoted tweets and sponsored content to search and display advertising - and it would apply to ads on behalf of a candidate or focused on issues of national importance, according to a copy of the bill.

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Senators to introduce bipartisan bill to boost internet ad transparency