FEC Social Media Rules For Political Ads May Not Be Ready For Midterms

The date for the US midterm elections is just about visible over the horizon.

For the past several months, lawmakers, both at the local and federal level, have been ramping up efforts to secure the integrity of the country’s electoral process.

Defending the country’s democratic process is a multifaceted challenge. Issues ranging from voting machine security to voter fraud must be addressed. A much broader factor on everyone’s minds is, of course, the threat of foreign meddling at any level of national elections. Spurred by fears of a repeat of the massive propaganda campaigns orchestrated by Russian nationals during the 2016 presidential elections, policymakers have for a long time been focusing on social media and its potential election-influencing capabilities.

Recently, the Federal Election Commission proposed rules aimed at preventing foreign influence on US elections. The laws would accomplish this through disclosure of online political ad sponsors. However, the grind of policy progress seems to be preventing a timely implementation of these laws. “The commission has been reluctant to change the rules of the game in the middle of the election season, so that would be something we would want to seriously consider,” Chairwoman Caroline Hunter told media sources. With the elections only months away, there is now serious concern that these new policies may not take effect before the 2018 midterms.

If there ends up being no new policies on the books about political advertising via social media, achieving transparency may be up to the big tech companies who own these platforms. Many online giants such as Facebook have independently committed to tightening their policies on election-related and other political advertisements. This comes as no surprise, considering that no company wants to be seen as passively supporting election sabotage. Being interrogated by Congress on accusations of Russian collusion was enough for many for corporations like Google, Twitter, and Facebook to take unilateral action to bolster their services.

Meanwhile, many on Capitol Hill are demanding action by the administration to ensure the coming midterms are safe from foreign meddling. In a recent letter penned by Senators from both sides of the aisle, legislators pressed President Trump to issue a national strategy for deterring malicious activity targeting elections in cyberspace “as soon as possible.” the issue of threats to the midterms came up most recently in the Senate during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats that featured many general discussions between lawmakers and top intelligence officials on cyber threats. During the hearing, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats admitted to the Senators that a comprehensive strategy to address cyber threats, including those posing a danger to elections, has been slow in coming.

“I don't think the progress has been made quick enough to put us in a position where we have a firm policy and understanding, not only ourselves, but what our adversaries know relative to how we're going to deal with this,” Coats said, noting that it will take a “whole-of-government” effort to hammer out an effective plan.

All of this government delay is unwelcome news, especially considering recent polls showing that the majority of the United States does not trust the administration to effectively protect the country’s elections.

If any faith in the democratic process is going to be maintained, policymakers had better get their act together quick.    

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