Senators aim to halt bogus political ads on Facebook

In response to reports Russians attempted to influence the election by buying online ads, Sen. John McCain joins two Democratic senators in backing The Honest Ads Act.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
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Sen. John McCain co-sponsors The Honest Ads Act, which aims to create more transparency with online and social media ads.

Sen. John McCain

Some US senators are looking to beef up laws around political ads sold online and on social media sites, given possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

It's largely believed the election was swayed by bogus political ads on Facebook, Twitter and Google. Senators Amy Kobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, don't want that to happen again. So, they announced Wednesday they're introducing legislation aimed at tackling such ads. Their draft bill, The Honest Ads Act, is co-sponsored by Republican Senator John of Arizona.

"In 2016 Russians bought online political ads designed to influence our election and divide Americans," reads a press release by Kobuchar and Warner. "The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology."

The idea of The Honest Ads Act is to create rules for online political ads that are the same as those that cover ads sold on TV, radio and satellite. That means certain disclosures would be required, such as who paid for the ads.

Facebook, Google and Twitter all acknowledge more could've been done to prevent the placement of such ads on their sites. Facebook has said more than $100,000 worth of ads were bought by what now appear to be Russian agents, while Twitter said it's discovered 201 accounts that may be tied to those same agents. Google reportedly found that Russians paid for tens of thousands of dollars on ads on YouTube, Gmail and Google search.

Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said last week that the company intends to fully cooperate with Congress, as well as release information on how the ads were targeted to specific audiences.

"Things happened on our platform in this election that should not have happened," Sandberg said. "We know we have a responsibility to do anything we can to prevent that."

McCain and Google didn't respond to requests for comment.

A Facebook spokesman said "we are open to working with lawmakers and reviewing any reasonable legislative proposals." A Twitter spokeswoman said "we look forward to engaging with Congress and the FEC on these issues."

First published Oct. 18, 2:26 p.m. PT.
Update, 4:36 p.m.: Adds comment from Twitter spokeswoman.

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