Posts Tagged ‘Honest Ads Act’’

Privacy and Elections

December 5, 2019

The title of this post is identical to he title of one of the fixes needed for the internet proposed in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. If your privacy information is protected, you are less likely to be targeted by deceptive information and disinformation.

Stengel thinks that an online privacy bill of rights is a good idea. One thing that needs to be mandatory in any digital bill of rights: the requirement that platforms obtain consent from users to share or sell their information and notify users about the collection of their data. This is the absolute minimum.

Regarding elections, platforms need to alert people when a third party uses their private information for online advertising. Political campaigns are highly sophisticated in their ability to use your consumer information to target you with advertising. If they know what movies you like, what shoes you by, and what books you read, they know what kind of campaign advertising you will be receptive to. At the same time, advertisers must give users the ability to output any content they receive.

The following fix could happen quickly: treat digital and online campaign advertising with the same strictness and rigor as television, radio, and print advertising. Currently, the Federal Election Commission does not do this. Television and radio stations, as well as newspapers, must disclose the source of all political advertising and who is paying for it. This is not true for digital advertising. The Honest Ads Act, which was introduced by the late Senator John McCain, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Senator Mark Warner, is an attempt to solve the problem of hidden disinformation campaigns by creating a disclosure system for online political advertising. It would require online platforms to obtain and disclose information on who is buying political advertising, as well as who the targeted audience is for the ads. It requires that platform companies disclose if foreign agents are paying for the ads. Platform companies would also be responsible for identifying bots so that voters know whether they are being targeted by machines or actual human beings. Stengel writes that all of this is both necessary and the absolute minimum.

For this regulation to be effective, it must also be done in real time during campaigns. Currently, according to the Federal Election Commission, political campaigns do not have to disclose their ad buys until a year after the fact. This is absurd. People need to know if they are being fed disinformation and falsehoods, and to know this in a timely way so they can factor it in their decision-making. Immediacy is more important during political campaigns than at any other time. Finding out a year later that you were targeted with a false ad by a bot that influenced your vote is worse than useless.

Congress also needs to designate state and local election systems to be national critical infrastructure. This would the federal government broader posers to intervene in a crisis. The Obama administration tried to do this, but the Republican majority in Congress voted it down. Stengel writes, “This is an essential change, and should be a bi-partisan issue.