The first major legislative effort to rein in foreign interference in U.S. elections will kick off Thursday afternoon on Capitol Hill, where Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar will field questions from reporters over a new bill crafted, they said, to "improve transparency of online political ads".
In addition to Klobuchar and Warner-the ranking Democrats on the Senate Rules and Intelligence committees, respectively-the bill is co-sponsored by Sen. "That is not the kind of transparency we need".
Tech companies have been resistant to past attempts to regulate them, and Warner previously has been critical of social media platforms' slowness to cooperate with the Russian Federation investigation underway at Senate Intelligence Committee, which he vice-chairs.
But it's not yet clear how quickly the bill would move or if it has support among key Republicans. US media reports also indicate Russians purchased similar ads on Google. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina have all said in interviews they want to wait for the hearing before deciding on legislation. In two weeks, executives for the social media giants are due to testify at public hearings about Russia's use of their networks to interfere in the 2016 election. But, he said, "a number of people are wanting to wait until the platform companies come in and have their day of testimony". "The content and purchaser (s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology".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 threshold was lowered because digital ads are much cheaper, Warner said.More news: United States and South Korea conduct joint Navy drills
"I don't really care what they're called - what I care about is that they are selling ads, they have huge departments of people selling ads [and] they're making money off it, just like TV, just like radio does", she said. "What I understood they were trying to get at is already illegal: foreign money in U.S. elections. We have already announced the steps Facebook will take on our own and we look forward to continuing the conversation with lawmakers as we work toward a legislative solution", said Erin Egan, Facebook VP for US Public Policy in a statement to CNET. But in 2011, Facebook went to federal regulators to get an exception from a rule that would have forced it to do the same thing.
It is illegal for foreign entities to make contributions in U.S. elections, but a lack of rules around online political advertising means the Russian ad activity could go mostly undetected.
One of the key questions is whether accounts would be able to evade any new disclosure requirements, which explains why the senators lowered the $10,000 ad disclosure threshold to $500.
Klobuchar said the exemption has become a far bigger problem over time, allowing foreign governments and bad actors to hide their efforts online - even paying for ads in Russian rubles. They could have been seen by as many as 25 million Facebook users, CNBC estimates.