Instead, much of the online advertising is in the form of fake news stories that are placed on social media services and are made to look like legitimate news stories as much as possible. While candidates still do run traditional political ads online, which are covered by current FEC requirements, there’s a vast array that’s not.
For example, the fake news story in 2016 that claimed that a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant was really a cover for a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton is an example of a fake news political ad that would require disclosure under the proposed rules. But because the origin of the ad and its related story was shadowy at best, this is an area where the online service that accepted it would have to perform the required disclosures.
In addition to exposing the interests trying to have an impact on U.S. elections, the rules would require that the online services selling the ads actually know who was buying them. Currently the advertising process is so highly automated that there’s little knowledge and thus little transparency, into who is buying ads and who is trying to influence political activities in the U.S.
Of course it would be naïve to suggest that such requirements would eliminate fake news, or that it would expose all foreign influences on U.S. elections. After all, quite a bit of the fake news during the 2016 wasn’t part of political advertising at all. A remarkable amount came from a group of Macedonian teenagers with fertile imaginations who used fake news to generate ad dollars and the disclosure requirements probably wouldn’t affect that.
But the requirements would shine a light on activities such as the Russian ads that Facebook is now exposing and it would do it beyond just Facebook.
While the online services such as Google and Facebook have fought disclosure rules in the past mostly because they didn’t want to do it, claiming inconvenience, every other medium that accepts political advertising has found a way. There’s no reason that online services with their intelligent automated system can’t also do it. They can probably do it with remarkable ease if they wanted to gather the information for their own uses exclusive of any government reporting requirements.
The online services have reached the age of responsibility especially because they have acquired an important role in our election process. So part of being a major force in social media and the shaping of political opinion in this country is accepting that responsibility.