Honest Ads Act' Demands Online Ad Disclosures From Tech Giants

Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota would require the same disclosure for online political ads that is now in place on ads that appear on television and the radio. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are sponsoring the bill with support from John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Penalties for noncompliance would be similar to those in the Federal Election Campaign Act, which regulates the financing of political campaigns in the U.S., and would include fines and other liability for the individuals and online platforms involved. Warner is the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

It remains unclear how exactly the bill will account for the unique challenges of regulating online ads, versus those broadcast over public airwaves.

"In 2016 Russians bought online political ads created to influence our election and divide Americans", the lawmakers wrote in a Wednesday press release. The House Intelligence Committee has said it plans on publicly releasing the ads.

The issue started weeks ago when Facebook revealed that it had discovered advertisements bought by a Russia-linked entity during the 2016 presidential election. The Senate Intelligence Committee is planning a November 1 hearing on the issue, and has invited representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter to testify.

Facebook also outlined other measures it says it will take to try to boost disclosure, including requiring more documentation on the source of political spots. "What we're trying to here is start with a light touch", Warner said. "That's not the way I operate", he said.

And tech giants would lastly have to employ "reasonable efforts" to ensure that foreign governments and their agents - from Russian Federation or elsewhere - are not purchasing political ads on their platforms. But, he said, "a number of people are wanting to wait until the platform companies come in and have their day of testimony". "We have already announced the steps Facebook will take on our own and we look forward to continuing the conversation with lawmakers as we work toward a legislative solution", said Erin Egan, Facebook VP for US Public Policy in a statement to CNET.

Klobuchar said the exemption has become a far bigger problem over time, allowing foreign governments and bad actors to hide their efforts online - even paying for ads in Russian rubles. The effort comes as Congress continues to investigate highly-targeted foreign propaganda during the 2016 campaign, which reached, by some estimates, tens of millions of Americans via Facebook alone.

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. The account was identified by the RBC news outlet as one controlled by the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm reportedly funded through a company run by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, a confidant of President Vladimir Putin.

  • Gwendolyn Kim