Ellen L. Weintraub, a member of the Federal Elections Commission, has submitted a vote on revamping disclaimer rules around political ads on the internet following Facebook’s admission yesterday that Russia bought $100,000 worth of ads on the social network to influence the US presidential election last year. Weintraub, who posted her letter to the FEC on Twitter, says the goal is to decide whether the “American people deserve to know who’s paying for the political info they see on the internet?”
“It is imperative that we updated the Federal Elections Commission’s regulations to ensure that the American people know who is paying for the internet political communications they see,” Weintraub writes. “Given the revelations of the past few days regarding the secret purchase of thousands of internet political ads by foreign actors during the 2016 presidential election, there can no longer reasonably be any doubt that we need to revise and modernize our internet disclaimer regulations.” The letter was sent to Chairman Steven T. Walthier, and Weintraub says she intends to include input from Facebook, Twitter, and Google, among other tech companies, once a new 30-day public comment period has taken place and a new hearing is scheduled.
The ad campaign, which was conducted by a notorious Russian “troll farm” with a history of using online tools and campaigns to spread state propaganda, was relatively small. However it’s yet more incontrovertible proof that foreign actors with ties to the Russian government attempted to meddle in the US presidential election.
The news, and the public concern of an official member of the FEC, only further undermines the defensive positions of President Donald Trump and his administration, which have long sought to discredit claims of Russian interference in the election as “fake news.” It also undermines a past position Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who called the notion that his company’s service influenced the election “crazy” last November.
In last year or so, Zuckerberg’s outlook on the role and influence of Facebook public and political life has shifted. His company has since taken a number of measures to cut down on the presence of bad actors, clickbait, and misinformation campaigns on the site, while Zuckerberg himself has owned up to Facebook’s outsize role in politics and acknowledged its corporate responsibility to modern civic discourse.