Twitter endorses the Honest Ads Act, a bill promoting political ad transparency

Just hours before social media companies face a regulatory reckoning with Facebook’s appearance on the Hill, Twitter is taking a step to get right with Congress.

In a series of tweets from its public policy account, Twitter just announced its decision to back the Honest Ads Act, a piece of legislation introduced last year as a response to mounting evidence that Russia leveraged domestic social media platforms in an attempt to influence U.S. politics during the 2016 presidential election.

After initially avoiding a commitment to the bill, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg endorsed the proposal last Friday. “Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform, and that’s why we support the Honest Ads Act,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post addressing foreign election influence campaigns. “This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online.”

As the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, the bill’s supporters saw an opportunity to apply pressure to the generally regulation-averse social media platforms, and that strategy appears to be paying off.

Introduced in October by Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar, with endorsement from prominent Republican Senator John McCain, the bill would impose ad transparency requirements on social media platforms, websites and ad networks that see more than 50 million unique visitors a month.

The Honest Ads Act’s proposed reforms are threefold:

  • Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements.
  • Requiring digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500.00 total on ads published on their platform. The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser.
  • Requiring online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.

Warner called Twitter’s decision a “huge step forward” for the Honest Ads Act, adding that he hoped it would encourage Google to follow suit in supporting the bill’s mission to “bring accountability and transparency to online political ads.”