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.
Disinformation on social media sometimes takes the form of “fake news”. Fake news is not news, it is native political advertising. Campaign advertising on social media – regardless of veracity – allows campaigns and outside groups to activate a narrow slice of the electorate with micro-targeted appeals. An ad can activate one’s bias or spread disinformation and never be seen again. The group running the ad escapes accountability and does not expose its audience to counter speech. Accountability and possibility of counterspeech are both features of political advertising in other venues, like television, cable, and radio.
Political ads on the Internet have escaped transparency requirements due to loopholes baked into the regulatory framework long before the age of social media. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld transparency requirements related to political ads, and we expect that it would do so for online political ads as well.
Communications Law | Computer Law | Election Law | First Amendment | Law | Law and Politics
Date of this Version
Abby Wood, Ann M. Ravel, and Irina Dykhne, "Fool Me Once: Regulating "Fake News" and other Online Advertising" (March 2018). University of Southern California Legal Studies Working Paper Series. Working Paper 261.