Tester, other lawmakers look to make digital campaign ads more transparent

While Facebook polices issues around election meddling and the Cambridge Analytica crisis, a handful of congressional lawmakers are taking their own steps to shine light on digital advertising.

That includes Sen. Jon Tester.

Tester, a Montana Democrat up for reelection this year, is co-sponsoring a bill to make digital ads more transparent by requiring online political ads to identify the source of the ad’s funding.

While such disclaimers are required for television, radio and newspaper ads, they aren’t required for digital sites and social media platforms, such as Facebook.

“It’s important that digital sites follow the same rules as television and newspaper and radio,” Tester told the Missoula Current. “It makes the ad more transparent so you know who’s paying for them. The voters need to know that.”

The Honest Ads Act was unveiled late last year by a bipartisan group of senators to combat the type of election meddling that Russia engaged in during the 2016 campaign.

Facebook, which has more than 210 million American users, acknowledged that between June 2015 and May 2017, Russian entities purchased roughly 3,000 divisive digital ads linked to fake accounts. Facebook has said that 470 Russian-linked accounts purchased $100,000 worth of ads.

In an interview with CNN last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was aware of the proposed Honest Ads Act and expressed support for more transparency in digital advertising.

“When you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV, in print, it’s not clear why there should be less on the Internet, where you should have the same level of transparency required,” Zuckerberg said. “People should know who’s buying the ads they see on Facebook, and you should be able to go to a page and see all the ads people are running to different audiences.”

The act proposed in Congress would change current Federal Election Commission advertising rules so digital and television ads require the same disclaimers, and it would expand the definition of “electioneering communications” to include paid Internet and digital communication.

Tester said the act would also require digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500 on ads published on their platform.

That file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser.

“Transparency makes our democracy stronger,” Tester said. “As more and more people turn to Facebook and Twitter, we must ensure they can trust the information.  This bill will shine more light on our nation’s political process and hold folks accountable as they try and influence voters.”