The Washington Post

Facebook can’t do it alone

The federal government should place stricter requiremen­ts on online political ads.


WHEN FACEBOOK decided to provide data on fake Russian accounts to the congressio­nal committees investigat­ing election interferen­ce, it also announced a plan to increase transparen­cy of political advertisem­ents on its platform. From now on, Facebook users will be able to see which accounts are promoting the messages they see and which other ads those accounts are running — informatio­n that will decrease the secrecy that allowed Russian ads to run unnoticed. These disclosure­s will be valuable, but a private company’s assurances are no replacemen­t for government reforms to protect elections.

Existing federal regulation­s place stricter requiremen­ts on political ads on radio and television than those on the Internet. There’s a reason for that: The use of online advertisin­g in political campaigns has spiked in prominence in only the past few years, before most rules governing election spending were written. As a result, Facebook had no legal responsibi­lity to let users know who was behind Kremlin funded advertisem­ents — even though similar ads run on a television station might have required a disclosure. The secrecy was even greater because of Facebook’s method of allowing advertiser­s to target posts to specific audiences. Other members of the public had no way of knowing what the targeted demographi­c saw.

Facebook’s new program will begin to lift this veil. But other Internet platforms, notably Twitter, need to lift the veil on political ads, too. And while Facebook has begun to shoulder responsibi­lity for how its website shapes democracy, the past year has shown that major social media platforms are too powerful to be accountabl­e only to themselves.

Facebook previously lobbied the Federal Election Commission for an exemption to rules requiring disclaimer­s on political ads. In the wake of Facebook’s announceme­nt, the FEC will be taking comments on whether to revisit those disclaimer requiremen­ts and whether ads placed online for free — for example, on YouTube — should be regulated along with paid ads. Meanwhile in Congress, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (DMinn.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) have proposed legislatio­n to begin applying public-disclosure laws to political advertisem­ents on the Internet as well as television and radio. The bill would also require that platforms take reasonable steps to avoid foreignbac­ked ads.

These proposals would not fully solve the problem of Russian meddling; Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Warner’s proposal might not have mandated disclosure of the Russian ads that sought to rile social tensions without reference to political candidates or legislatio­n. But that doesn’t mean that the efforts aren’t worthwhile — or that they don’t deserve cooperatio­n from platforms such as Facebook. Republican­s in Congress and the FEC should work alongside Democrats in both institutio­ns to weigh how best to protect elections from foreign interferen­ce, while also preserving the Internet as a home for vibrant political discussion. The integrity of American democracy should be a matter of bipartisan concern.

 ?? ERIC RISBERG/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg speaks in San Francisco in last year.
ERIC RISBERG/ASSOCIATED PRESS Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg speaks in San Francisco in last year.

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