Democrats propose limits on political ad targeting in backlash to Facebook
The bill aims to crack down on "microtargeting" of voters
A Democratic House bill that would tighten restrictions on online political ad-targeting on platforms like Facebook is set to be introduced next week, bill sponsor Rep. David Cicilline told POLITICO Thursday.
The so-called Protecting Democracy from Disinformation Act would limit political advertisers to targeting users based only on age, gender and location — a move intended to crack down on a practice known as microtargeting, in which advertisers direct messages at subsets of users based on data ranging from their hobbies to their ethnic background. The tactic has come under fire from Democratic lawmakers, who say it allows politicians, including President Donald Trump, to tailor lies to voters online with impunity — and tech companies to profit off it.
Cicilline said the legislation, which he plans to introduce Tuesday, is essential toward stopping politicians from targeting voters who may be more susceptible to believing deceitful advertising.
“The microtargeting is where the real danger is,” he said during a phone interview.
The Rhode Island Democrat said that the practice also serves to shield what politicians say from public scrutiny.
"You lose the ability to be able to counter it in the open with a contrary assertion by someone else, because we don't even know that people got those ads that said false things," said Cicilline.
The incoming legislation would also set new disclosure requirements for political ads online, including their cost, how they were targeted and who saw them. And it would give regulators at the Federal Election Commission, tasked with overseeing its enforcement, the power to seek criminal penalties against online platforms that knowingly violate the measure.
The legislation is expected to be introduced with other Democratic co-sponsors, according to a Cicilline spokesperson, who declined to elaborate.
The proposal could draw significant support from congressional Democrats, who have hammered Facebook and other social media companies for taking a tougher stance against misinformation on their platforms, particularly in political ads. But it’s unlikely to pick up steam among Republicans on Capitol Hill, some of whom have blasted those calls as an affront to free and political speech.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), one of Silicon Valley’s fiercest GOP detractors in Washington, offered rare praise for Facebook last year after the company said... (Read more)
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