This week, Facebook, Twitter, and Google testified before the House and Senate Committees about Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. These hearings revealed that an estimated 126 million Americans were exposed to content disseminated on Facebook generated by a Russian government-linked Troll Farm. During the hearing, lawmakers asked pressing questions about why it is so easy to spread misinformation on their platforms and how these companies plan to protect their platforms against use hostile to U.S. values.
These social media companies and Congress seem to agree that online political ads require greater oversight, though there is disagreement regarding whether internet companies can adequately self-regulate these ads.
For years, the government has given online companies much freedom for innovation and growth, with little government interference. But the recent Russian investigations have opened the door to increasing congressional discussions about regulating online advertising.
Republicans and Democrats complain that it has taken Facebook a year to reveal how many Americans were exposed to Russia-linked content, and that Facebook, Twitter, and Google do not grasp the threat that foreign election interference poses to U.S. democracy. Accordingly, House and Senate bills are calling for greater regulation of online political ads. Three senators have introduced a new piece of legislation called the Honest Ads Act, which would require online social media companies to disclose who is buying political ads on their platforms.
Social media companies have an interest in keeping the government out of their business, and are therefore resistant to invasive regulation. Facebook and Twitter have taken pre-emptive steps to prove their ability to self-regulate. Facebook revealed its plan to invest more in safety and security and to require political advertisers to disclose more information about their campaign and targeted audience.