U.S. Lawmakers Plan to Introduce a Bipartisan Bill to Improve Transparency for Online Political Ads

The 'Honest Ads Act' will be filed on Thursday

U.S. lawmakers plan to introduce bipartisan legislation to improve the transparency of online political ads. Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

Lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties are getting ready to introduce legislation that would require political ads to be held to the same standards for transparency online as they are in traditional formats like TV and radio.

The bill known as the “Honest Ads Act” is expected to be filed in the U.S. Senate on Thursday and aims to “prevent foreign interference in future elections,” according to a statement from the office of Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee. The legislation will be co-sponsored by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, giving it bipartisan support.

The bill comes just two weeks before a Nov. 1 hearing at which Facebook, Google and Twitter have been asked to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee about how Russian operatives used their platforms to influence the 2016 presidential election. It’s still unclear to what length the legislation will go in terms of requiring transparency of online political ads.

“Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google,” according to a joint statement from Klobuchar’s and Warner’s offices. “The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology.”

In September, Facebook disclosed it had found Russian accounts had bought $100,000 in ads on Facebook focused on hot-button issues. Less than a month later, Twitter announced it had also found Russia-linked ads, while Google, Pinterest and even Pokemon Go have reportedly also found evidence on their own platforms.

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.