Facebook’s announcement this month that it’s changing the way it handles political advertising is good news but no cause for celebration. Stung by stories about how the site sold political advertising to Russian interests last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled a self-regulation regimen that may quiet the social network’s critics and placate lawmakers alarmed about hidden foreign meddling in U.S. elections. But while Zuckerberg’s maneuver may be good for Facebook’s bottom line, it falls far short of what Americans need to protect our elections. Rather than placating Congress and the public, it should spark the passage of comprehensive and long overdue legislation requiring full disclosure of the people, businesses and groups using online ads to influence our votes.
There’s a critical principle at stake here, one too important to our democracy to be entrusted to any private entity: the right of every American to know who is trying to influence our elections and public policy.
Our laws already require disclosure of the people and groups behind some of the political ads we receive in the mail or over the internet, as well as those we see on television, hear on the radio and read in our newspapers and magazines. Candidates must personally vouch on the air for TV and radio ads placed by their campaign committees.