USA legislation that would impose new disclosure requirements on political ads that run on Facebook and other websites received support on Wednesday from Senator John McCain, giving a bipartisan boost to a bill already popular among Democrats.
The move by Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar, and Republican John McCain on October 19 comes on the heels of allegations that Russian Federation used anonymous ads on social media platforms to meddle and influence opinions during the last year's US presidential election.
The proposed rules mirror some of the disclosure requirements imposed on broadcasters, who must make copies of political ads run on their airwaves available for public viewing.
In an interview on MSNBC, Klobuchar said that the Russian-purchased ads are a national security issue, and while the new bill would not forbid companies from selling ads to foreign groups, Klobuchar said that "Americans must be able to know who is paying for these ads". "In a two-front war, tech companies are targeting an election commission rule-making process that was restarted last month and a legislative effort in the Senate", The New York Times wrote. The bipartisan bill will, should it pass, require all digital platforms to federally disclose who buys political ads on each platform's website or app, the goal being to avoid further foreign meddling in United States elections and fueling the flames around issues like racial tensions.
Platforms would also be required to make "reasonable efforts" to keep foreign actors from buying political ads.
The bill also has the support of Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Service.
"We have to secure our election systems and we have to do it now - the next election is only 383 days away".
Warner and Klobuchar said they were not certain about the bill's prospects in Congress but that they hoped to get something passed by early next year or to have the provisions attached to another piece of legislation. Other platforms, such as Twitter, have also come under increased scrutiny recently for Kremlin-linked activity on their sites during the election.
To prevent a repeat, Klobuchar, along with Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, unveiled the Honest Ads Act, which would require Facebook, Twitter, Google and other technology giants to post information about the source of political ads, just as USA television and radio broadcasters are required to do.
At least two congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller are conducting probes into the allegations and to investigate whether there was any collusion with members of the Trump campaign team. "The social media companies were frankly late to the game in acknowledging this problem, but I think they're moving in the right direction". Warner and Klobuchar are still trying to woo additional Senate and House Republicans, who have spent much of the year rolling back federal regulations they see as burdensome.
Representatives of Google, Facebook, and Twitter are expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next month. Facebook has since turned over more than 3,000 Russian-linked ads to congressional committees investigating Russian interference.