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Congress Wants New Rules for Online Political Advertising After Russian Facebook Ads

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Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing the Federal Election Commission to develop new rules governing political advertising on social media after Facebook revealed that Russian trolls routinely purchased ads on its platform during the 2016 election cycle.

“Foreign nationals were shown to have routinely deployed sophisticated tactics in making political expenditures to evade detection, with the express purpose of undermining the integrity of our elections,” the group wrote in a letter to FEC chairman Steven Walther. “Social media platforms offer the ability to target millions of users based upon a wealth of highly-detailed information. As we have seen, the low cost of reaching these users equips hostile foreign actors with a powerful new tool for disruption of our democratic process. Therefore, it is incumbent that the Commission take immediate action to preserve the integrity of our election law and our elections.”

The letter is signed by a bevy of Democrats in the House and Senate, including Reps. John Sarbanes, John Conyers, Elijah Cummings, and Derek Kilmer and Senators Martin Heinrich, Ron Wyden, Tom Udall, Elizabeth Warren, Maggie Hassan, Ben Cardin, Al Franken, Jack Reed, Ed Markey, Chris Van Hollen, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Bob Menendez, Catherine Cortez Masto, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Kamala Harris.

The group is asking the FEC to come up with a plan for issuing new rules to prevent foreign groups from funding online political ads by October 4th. Among the requested recommendations are guidance for advertisement platforms to prevent foreign groups from purchasing political ads and improve disclosure of ad funding.

The FEC is also being asked how it would “monitor illicit coordination between a campaign and a third party political spender, including foreign actors,” which sure seems like a reference to a certain special counsel investigation into a certain presidential campaign.

Foreign nationals, companies, and sketchy quasi-governmental troll farms are already banned from making contributions to federal US elections, but social media companies make it cheap and easy to skirt that rule. Facebook said that it traced $100,000 in ad buys made during the 2016 election cycle to a Russian troll farm. Representatives of the company are expected to testify at an upcoming Senate hearing, and Twitter has been asked to make similar disclosures about foreign ad buys on its platform.