Home Breaking NewsRussian meddling prompts states to set online political ad rules – The Denver Post
Russian meddling prompts states to set online political ad rules – The Denver Post

Russian meddling prompts states to set online political ad rules – The Denver Post


U.S. states are tightening rules for online political advertising ahead of the November midterm elections as prospects dim that federal rules will be in place to prevent a repeat of the Russian interference seen in 2016.

As political campaigns dump millions of advertising dollars into Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google, states including Maryland, Washington and New York are putting more pressure on tech companies to keep tabs. California state senators have scheduled a hearing for Monday on a bill that would require internet companies to offer to the public more information about the people or groups funding political ads for state and local candidates there.

The actions come as efforts for stricter political ad disclosure rules for federal elections stall amid partisan rancor, even as national security officials and technology companies sound the alarm about so-called “bad actors” becoming more sophisticated in the way they use social media to spread misinformation and sow discord in American civic life.

Facebook said last week it’s uncovered an ongoing effort to meddle in the midterms, and has deleted dozens of accounts and pages from people using false identities who were coordinating events and looking to stir up political unrest.

Tech companies are retooling their own policies to thwart the threat of foreign influence, but don’t want to be subject to what they view as overly prescriptive requirements about how they disclose information on ads, or be held responsible for the accuracy of that information.

“Both platforms and advertisers share the responsibility of ensuring election advertisements are transparent,” said Noah Theran, a spokesman for the Internet Association, a Washington lobbying group that represents Facebook, Google and Twitter. “The details of any new legislation — including disclosure and interface display requirements — are critical to ensuring individual platforms are able to comply, and we are committed to working with legislators to find solutions.”

Google didn’t respond to a request for comment, while Twitter declined to comment. Facebook said it’s supportive of bills that have passed or are being considered in New York, California and Maryland.

Political ads represent just a fraction of social media companies’ advertising dollars, but they can have an outsized influence on the outcome of U.S. elections.

The consulting firm Borrell Associates of Williamsburg, Virginia, estimates that 20 percent of political ad spending in the U.S. this year will go to digital media. That’s a marked increase in online advertising spending from the 2014 midterm elections, when digital media accounted for less than 1 percent. Between May and July, advertisers spent as much as $72 million on online ads with political content, according to a recently released study from New York University researchers.

“Social media advertising has the potential to really change the way campaigns are run. It allows you to really micro-target” specific communities, said Laura Edelson, an NYU doctoral student and one of the authors of the study. For that reason, “it’s important to understand who is trying to influence us.”

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