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Zuckerberg says Facebook supports political ad regulation

The social network's CEO said he's backing the Honest Ads Act, ahead of his hearings before Congress next week.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

James Martin/CNET

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before congress next week. Before he heads off to Washington, however, he has a message for lawmakers: Facebook supports political advertising regulation. 

"Election interference is a problem that's bigger than any one platform, and that's why we support the Honest Ads Act," Zuckerberg said Friday in a Facebook post. "This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online."

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The Honest Ads Act is a senate bill that would require tech companies to disclose how political ads were targeted and how much they cost. It's sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia. The act was drafted in response to Russian trolls abusing Facebook and other online platforms to sow discord among Americans during the 2016 US presidential election. 

In a statement, Warner praised Facebook for supporting more transparency around ads. Most of the Kremlin-backed ads on Facebook during the election season didn't specifically mention then-candidates Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, he said. Rather, they tried to drive social divisions by mentioning hot-button issues like guns, LGBT rights and immigration.

"That's why today's announcement by Facebook is so important," Warner wrote. "I would encourage all of the platform companies to follow suit as we work toward making the Honest Ads Act the law of the land, ensuring that political ads sold online abide by the same disclosure rules as TV and radio ads." 

Klobuchar said in a statement, sent to CNET on Monday, that Facebook's involvement is a "positive step," but she noted that "a patchwork of voluntary measures from tech companies isn't going to cut it." She called for Congress to pass the Honest Ads Act.

"The goal of this legislation is to ensure that all major platforms that sell political advertisements are held to the same rules of the road,"Klobuchar wrote. "As political advertising continues to move online, we must have consistent standards for transparency and accountability in the digital ad space that mirror what is already required for television, radio, and print. Americans have a right to know who is paying to influence public discourse regardless of where ads are sold."

The announcement comes ahead of Zuckerberg's scheduled testimony at Congressional hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday. During those meetings, he's also expected to discuss online privacy and data protection. Facebook has been in hot water over its user data policies in the wake of a controversy involving Cambridge Analytica. The data consultancy, which had ties to the Trump presidential campaign, harvested data on up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission. 

With important elections coming up in the US, Mexico, Brazil, India, Pakistan and more countries in the next year, one...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, April 6, 2018

On Friday, the social network also announced changes to its political ads policies. In order to run an "issue" ad -- messages that address political issues debated across the country -- advertisers will need to go through a verification process and confirm their identity and location. The company is also requiring people who manage large pages to be verified as well.

Facebook also said it built a tool to let people see all the ads a page is running. The company is testing it in Canada now and will roll it out globally in the summer. 

"These steps by themselves won't stop all people trying to game the system," Zuckerberg wrote. "But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election."

CNET's Shara Tibken contributed to this report. 

First published on April 6 at 11:14 a.m. PT.
Update on April 9 at 10:10 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Klobuchar.

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