A lack of transparency for online political advertising has long been a problem in American political campaigns. Disinformation attacks that American voters have experienced since the 2016 campaign have made the need for regulatory action more pressing.
Platforms desire self-regulation and have only recently come around to supporting transparency regulations. While government must not regulate the content of political speech, it can, and should, force transparency into the process. We propose several interventions aimed at transparency. Most importantly, campaign finance regulators should require platforms to store and make available ads run on their platforms, as well as the audience at whom the ad was targeted. Audience availability can be structured to avoid privacy concerns, and it meets an important speech value in the “marketplace of ideas” theory of the First Amendment, that of enabling counter speech. Our proposed regulations would capture any political advertising, including disinformation, that is promoted via paid distribution on social media, as well as all other online political advertising. Second, Congress should stop preventing regulatory agencies from closing existing loopholes around disclosure and disclaimers. Finally, government should require an opt-in for social media users to view narrowly-targeted ads or disputed content.
Communications Law | Computer Law | Election Law | First Amendment | Law | Law and Politics
Date of this Version
Abby Wood and Ann M. Ravel, "Fool Me Once: Regulating "Fake News" and other Online Advertising" (September 2018). University of Southern California Legal Studies Working Paper Series. Working Paper 261.