back to article Facebook, Google and pals may be hit with TV political ads rules

Facebook and Google, along with other online publishers, may soon be required in the US to disclose funding for paid political ads. On Thursday in Washington DC, two US senators – Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA) – proposed a bill called The Honest Ads Act to extend the funding disclosure requirements for political …

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  2. frank ly

    Just wondering

    What about politically oriented and motivated ads placed in other countries by the US government and agencies for the purpose of influencing foreign elections? Will they have to disclose the funding source of those as well?

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Just wondering

      Depends on the laws of those countries.

      It's fair enough for the US government to pass laws about what goes on in the USA. What goes on in, say, Egypt - is for the Egyptian government to worry/make laws about.

    2. Not also known as SC

      Re: Just wondering

      Reminds me of the old joke about how the USA sent in seven thousand voting advisers to the Island of Grenada in 1983.

    3. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Just wondering

      Reverse it.

      What if ads are paid for outside the US, but "individuals" share them in the US. I guess the devil will be in the detail in the wording of the Act.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do you determine something is political and for a specific candidate?

    Surely by pushing someone to the same political views as a candidate can be done without even mentioning the candidate.

    Push news stories against Muslims or Mexicans and you are pushing someone to an ideology similar to Trump.

    Nice idea but doomed to fail.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      What are they selling?

      If it's an idea then it's political and falls under this.

      If it's a product or service then it might still be political but doesn't get classified as such.

    2. veti Silver badge

      The law doesn't say anything about mentioning candidates or parties. Just that you have to say who paid for the ad.

      Really, I don't see why that requirement shouldn't apply to all ads, political or not.

      Of course all it means in practice is that the sneakier politicians, i.e. most of them, set up more-or-less-arms-length shell companies whose purpose is to pay for ads on their behalf, with names like "Americans for Motherhood & Apple Pie" - but even that gives you somewhere to start looking.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How do you determine something is political and for a specific candidate?

      Er, that's easy; if there's an election coming up and the ad isn't for a commercial product, then there's a good chance that the ad is political...

      Surely by pushing someone to the same political views as a candidate can be done without even mentioning the candidate. Push news stories against Muslims or Mexicans and you are pushing someone to an ideology similar to Trump.

      Yes, those are all good criteria that indicate that an ad might be politicial. See, you're helping out already! Oh, and such news stories would be illegal in the UK and most of (if not all of) Europe, even if they are protected in the US as "free speech".

      Nice idea but doomed to fail.

      Well, who knows? A law fails if it is unenforced. And this is an easy law to enforce; just watch a few ads and see what's said / shown / etc, and look up the supposed buyers of the ad spots, see if everything checks out. If it doesn't, you phone up the relevant law enforcement agency and they'll bring a prosecution and the judge will, if a conviction is secured, hand out the prescribed penalty. The only room there for "failure" is if this all happens but nothing changes as a result, indicating that the penalty was insufficient. This is easily fixed. (Germany with a similar law has erred on the side of caution; a €50million fine per item is possible. A company attracting a few of those fines per week will soon start getting worried. Plus Europe, well the EU, seems quite content with fining companies a proportion of their global revenue; ouch. And that's just for anti-competitive behaviours, not anything as important as straight elections and law/order).

      It's a very difficult law for social media companies to comply with, because now they have an enormous problem to solve, namely identifying exactly who is buying an ad spot and exactly what the ad content is. That's a very subjective, human process which is highly costly thing to do thoroughly, so is not viable when the ad spot itself might not have cost very much. It only pays if the checking process can be machine driven, but it's not going to be very good at that.

      In contrast a TV ad, being a much more expensive thing, means that the TV company can afford to check out the ad thoroughly before broadcasting it.

      With "news" stories there's no substitue for good editorial control; again they're rubbish at doing that by machine...

      Causes

      All the major social media companies have come out in recent months admitting that they carried political ads, political "news" stories, etc. during the presidential election whose origins are foreign, not American. Such admissions are inevitably going to cause a political consequence.

      Every elected politician fears an election, they might lose their jobs, so they're sure as hell are going to want to go into an election with the playing field levelled. They are going to do everything they can whilst they can do it (i.e. before the next election) to ensure that some foreign outfit isn't helping out their electoral opponents. They'd far rather take the temporary political heat of upsetting the social media companies than do nothing about it.

      This kind of thing simply underlines the long term unsustainability of the business model for micro-ad funded social media networks. Sooner or later they're going to come up against the fundamental pressures in a society that bear down on that society's elected politicians. Straight elections, and law and order.

      The ability for small players to reach nationwide audiences on social media networks is terrific, but unfortunately it's also terrific for nasty people wanting to do that too. That is a law and order problem that has become too big to ignore in Europe, the UK, etc.

      Terrorist incidences cost a lot of money ($billions). People bullied on social media can become ill and hence become financial burden on the health services. Every victim of a paedophile gang is going to need a lot of help, which costs money. And so on. These are costs that the UK is considering passing on to the social network companies, an imaginative move! Unfortunately for the social network companies, it's the government that'll be estimating the bill, not themselves.

      The companies are either going to have to become much more effective at cleaning up their own networks and truly identifying the users responsible to allow prosecutions to happen, or let government agencies inside their networks to do it for them. Cleaning up their networks is proving to be something that they're simply rubbish at, by their own admission. They currently have no way of identifying their users. And letting the spooks inside is going to be very unpopular with their user base.

      And as we saw last year the social networks have become unwitting pawns in geopolitics. They're going to have to extracate themselves from that position or let government agencies inside their networks to do it for them. One of those is expensive, requiring decent editorial capacity / talent, the other is deeply unpopular with their user base.

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    "Honest ads..." Sounds like an oxymoron to me. But reading what they want to legislate may not be a bad idea since it's already applied to other forms of communication.

    I would expect then that if this passes, the "ads" on social media will need to be labeled much like they are on TV, radio, and in the press/magazines, etc.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      The title of most bills from congress is an oxymoron. The PATRIOT Act was far from the first, but it is still the best example.

      1. WolfFan Silver badge

        The title of most bills from congress is an oxymoron. The PATRIOT Act was far from the first, but it is still the best example.

        You fail to show the full glory (well, the full something) of the USA-PATRIOT Act, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Yes, that's its name. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriot_Act

        I wish that I was joking.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Honest ads..." Sounds like an oxymoron to me.

      Ah yes, the lunacy of advertising. Lets make a product more expensive by buying advertising for it, passing the cost onto the buyer regardless of whether they actually saw the ad or not.

      Advertising is a form of commercial blackmail. Google have become very good at it. They keep inventing new services specifically to ramp that up... It's doubtful that advertising online has any positive impact on market share; it's simply another way of trying to not lose market share.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Paragons Of Honesty

    Looking at the bill's sponsors, the phrase "usual gang of suspects" comes to mind. Of course, it would have come to mind with any of the possible sponsors.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Will not work

    Russians were significantly smarter than that. They did not buy ads supporting Trump directly. They bought ad space to promote organizations with socially divisive agenda and/or promoted various causes to increase social division. Have a look at the transcripts of the Facebook, Google and Twitter congress hearings. So any of the McCain proposed restrictions will not work.

    The Russians have [analysed | guessed | who knows] that the biggest damage they can cause to their adversary is by promoting social division and instability. What they are doing is not about getting "their candidate elected" - it is about maximizing the damage. The candidate is usually just the means.

    It is also clearly, purely and openly by policy in retaliation.

    Officially, this has become their policy 12 years ago in 2005 (or was it 2006? - two weeks after one of the Bush visits) after the Kondoleeza Rice letter telling them to f*ck off and that USA will invest into any political entity in Russia and around their borders as they see fit as this is "American Sovereign Right". While the letter is classified on the USA side, Russians have leaked excerpts for a long time and I think you can get your mitts on a copy of it in their national archive.

    Historically this fits - there is little or no evidence of Putin sponsoring anyone in Europe, USA, etc prior to that. After that we got a whole raft of strange agenda organizations with unclear financing sources sprouting up (as a first instance), followed by the referendum, USA election, elections in Eastern Europe, etc.

    We should have de-escalated this long ago. Instead of that we are pouring more and more billions in attempted regime change in Russia and around it. That did not work and is not likely to work any time soon. At the same time they are doing more damage to us than we are doing them.

  7. Michael Habel Silver badge

    Demorats just can't accept reality....

    http://oi66.tinypic.com/33ences.jpg

  8. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Riiiiiight...

    Because the US Administration has never interfered or tried to subvert the elections in any other country has it...

  9. Peter2 Silver badge

    So, Mrs Clinton spent $1,191 million dollars on advertising.

    Mr Trump spent $646 million.

    Mr Putin or agents thereof is claimed to have spent $2.3 million, and this tipped the election.

    Right. Are putins advertising agents for hire? Because if they can get those sort of results despite being outspent by a factor of 600/1 then I could use them in our marketing department...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I can tell you where to find them

      You can find them in the history, sociology, psychology, etc depts of Moscow State university and to a lesser extent 2-3 other Russian unis.

      I have more than one childhood friend that is topping up their rather slim and thin state uni bread and butter with some substantial sustenance this way. This is the standard modus operandi of most large Russian corporations and their 3 letters too.

      Before they do anything in a country, they ask people who know and understand a country, its history, its religion(s), customs, habits, etc to do a detailed analysis, isolate and rank pressure points as well as means of influencing key people. The latter may or may not involve a bribe. In most cases it is unnecessary - you can get similar results by catering to their vested interests. That is why they get the ROI and the precision you see.

      This is different from CIA which relies on an army of parasites, sorry analysts. While some of these have applicable education, very few of them know the country and the subject matter to the same level as a Tier 1 university professor. As a result you get the typical American drive-by-democracy approach where good money is poured after bad into everyone who has declared himself an "enemy of our enemy" with occasional results interspersed by spectacular blowbacks.

      While the Russian approach works fairly well for politics, I do not see how you can translate it to marketing for a generic product.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Any country

      Where people vote according to what they see / hear in the media, and not "because my pop / mom always voted such" deserves it's current government.

      Conversation in pub before Uk election and one of the assembled crowd had no logical reasoning or political stance and their only contribution was "I vote labour coz i'm working class"

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just wondering, but how would you expect people to find out about 'new stuff' without advertising?

    1. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Nobody is saying you can't tell people about 'new stuff'

      You just have to be clear about your connection to the new stuff and vested interests in it being promoted.

  11. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge
    Coat

    Why is it that...

    ...only older male politicians are concerned about electile dysfunction?

    Mine's the one with the small vacuum pump...

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Why is it that...

      Oh, I'm not too sure about the 'only older' part. Certainly https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Weiner has had a thought or two on the matter, and he's not that old, even if he is, now, 'retired from public life'. That's 'public', not 'pubic'; evidence of his non-retirement from that may be seen on smartphones all around the world.

      1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

        Re: Why is it that...

        Quite so! When I first saw his name I had to say 'yougottabefrrakinkiddingme!' Guess not

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