In a revealing exchange during the first Congressional hearing on tech platforms and Russian election meddling, lawyers from Facebook, Google, and Twitter dodged questions about whether they would support a bill to hold political ads on their platforms to the same standards as television and radio.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked representatives from each company whether they support the Honest Ads Act, which she introduced with Sens. John McCain and Mark Warner. The bill would require political ads on social media to disclose the buyer’s identity, in line with rules governing ads on television, radio, and print.
Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch would not say whether or not his company supports the bill, even as Klobuchar pressed him on the issue.
Instead, he said, “We’ve drawn on much of what’s in the bill to inform our announcement on Friday related to ads transparency and disclosure obligations and we stand ready to work with you and your co-sponsors on that legislation going forward.” Facebook published an update on its advertising transparency efforts Oct. 27 in advance of this week’s hearings.
“The same goes for Twitter,” said Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel.
“We certainly support the goals of the legislation and would like to work through the nuances to make it work for all of us,” said Richard Salgado, Google’s Director for information security and law enforcement.
Those waffling remarks make more sense taken with a post from The Internet Association this morning, first spotted by Recode. The lobbying group — which represents big online companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter — pledged its commitment to work with legislators to improve political ad transparency but cautioned Congress not to use a heavy hand when writing the rules.
“Legislation or regulation should improve transparency and disclosure of online election advertising without creating requirements that would discourage legitimate stakeholders from actively engaging in the political process or limit political speech,” the post says. “Proposals that would hold platforms liable for advertisers’ claims could discourage platforms from carrying ads from individual citizens or legitimate groups that aren’t well known or established.”
The loose guidelines governing political ads on social media provided cover for Russian government-backed agents to purchase ads and spread content with the intention of fomenting discord among Americans during the election season.
Remarks prepared for today’s hearing revealed that Russian government-backed agents created posts that reached about 126 million Facebook users and uploaded more than 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube platform around the Nov. 8 election.
Lawyers from Google, Facebook, and Twitter will be back in the hot seats tomorrow for hearings before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Watch today’s hearing below: