After an election cycle that was riddled with rumors of Russian interventions and fake news stories, a recent testimony before Congress has actually confirmed many of our worst fears. Take a deep breath, during the 2016 election… it is possible that as many as 126 million Americans were served Facebook posts and ads that were created by Russian operatives.
In a world where more than 50% of people ages 18-44 consume their news through both social media and online news outlets… this fact is especially frightening. Just take a look at this study on news consumption methods conducted by Reuters this earlier year:
How do you put digital advertising’s transparency levels on par with the already strictly regulated TV and Radio? Well, at the very minimum, the recently proposed Honest Ads Act will attempt to do just that. If enacted, here’s what could change for digital political advertisers:
- Internet companies have to keep copies of political ads, information about the media buyers, their intended target audiences and rates charged for the ads.
- The bill also proposes to make companies keep those on file for no less than four years and make that information public.
- Anyone spending more than $500 on a political ad OR any site with more than 50 million unique monthly visitors will have to follow these new requirements.
Sounds good? Hold on. Push’s SVP Phil Vangelakos, quoted in The Drum, said the Honest Ads Act WON’T actually prevent what the Russians did from happening in the future. Actually, it’s not even close.
What it does is require ad platforms to capture the identity of advertisers, store the ads they make and targeting data used to direct them into society. While this should help filter some bad actors, it will take more nuanced, case-by-case analysis to prevent inflammatory content from spreading. Not an easy task, and one one that requires platforms to walk the line on limiting speech.
Further, it underscores that our senators and representatives don’t really understand digital. We’ll applaud the increased levels of digital transparency and the positive steps being taken here, but if we’re truly thinking about the future (as it pertains to speech and politics), the reality is that it’s now in the hands of the social platforms.