Make Them Hear You! Honest Ads

Make Them Hear You! is a weekly feature on KGNU, produced by Chris Mohr, letting listeners know how they can have their voices heard on issues up before Congress. You can hear it Wednesday mornings at 8.20am during the Morning Magazine.


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Robert Mueller has already indicted Russian companies which bought over 3000 political ads on Facebook. According to its sponsors, the Honest Ads Act (S. 1989/H.R. 4077) will help disarm foreign actors and bring advertising transparency into the digital age by requiring tech giants to reveal who is buying political ads on their platforms.

Political ads on television, news print and on the radio are all currently required to disclose who has paid for the advertisement under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, but this is not a requirement online. The bill would amend the 1971 law to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure ads are not purchased “directly or indirectly” by foreign countries. The legislation would require companies to disclose how advertisements were targeted as well as how much the ads cost. The Honest Ads Act was first introduced in October by Sens. Amy Klobuchar,  Mark Warner, and John McCain.

Virginia’s Mark Warner is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and had this to say on an NPR interview. “I’ve been saying to the social media companies, you’ve got to come clean with the level of Russian interference. We’re getting this information that there were thousands of paid ads, false accounts. There was a fake account on Twitter that was representing itself as the Tennessee Republican Party.

In this new era where over half of Americans get their ads from social media, if you advertise politically on social media, you need to disclose what group is advertising, and there ought to be a place where people can go look at the content, the same kind of requirements that already exist if people were to advertise on television or in news print, equalizing the playing field. We’re asking the companies to make a reasonable attempt so that if that ad is being paid for by a foreign agent, that they will try to reveal that foreign agent since that’s already against the law for a foreign government to interfere in American elections.

In an era where $1.4 billion was spent on political advertising in 2016 – and that number’s only going to go up – there needs to be equality between traditional radio and broadcast and social media and Internet political advertising.

Mark Warner says his bill is a “light touch.” The Honest Ads Act does have its loopholes. For example, Russian nationals could still set up multiple accounts and buy ads for less than $500, avoiding the reporting requirement of the act. Google has argued against the regulation as being too restrictive, in favor instead for self-regulation. Twitter pledged to support this Senate bill, which would require technology platforms that sell advertising space to disclose the source of and amount of money paid for political ads. Facebook at first opposed this bill, but now claims they have already started implementing the bill in their own policies.

If you have an opinion on the Honest Ads Act (S. 1989/H.R. 4077), you can contact your senators and representatives and share your concerns.

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