Preventing election meddling in the US via the Honest Ads Act

by Thorsten Koch MA, PgDip

In a recent edition of the Cato Daily Podcast, one of the think tank’s policy analysts, Will Duffield, talked about ongoing proposals towards election reforms introduced by the Democratic Party in the US Congress. The party’s representatives have proposed to regulate social networks via the Honest Ads Act, thereby building upon the Federal Election Campaign Act of 2017, which originally was to regulate broadcasting. The goal of the initiative is to prevent election meddling, an issue of great importance to the public.

A more complex situation

There have been discussions for many years to limit the transmission and effects of divisive ads. Nowadays, however, the situation is “more blurry.” With a broad number of people, so-called influencers, wanting to speak to the public and gain endorsement for their content, one has to understand that the media formats are part of a framework of political campaigns and social issues, the analyst said. Duffield expressed his view that prohibitions of foreign advertising and other kinds of media on US platforms will also touch upon the media delivered by good actors – while bad actors might try to circumvent the legislation by faking their digital profiles. The discussions have been centering around political ads, Duffield said, which are less popular than entertainment – so “why bother?”

How will things play out?

Albeit, given the consequences of the proposed legislation for regular people and law-abiding companies, Duffield warned that “we don’t have a sense of how some proposals will work in the real world.” Already, Facebook has engaged in implementing content moderation by trying to replicate policy proposals including, as Duffield pointed out, the bill which is now being discussed. It remains to be seen, among other things, how exactly the verification of Internet user’s identities will come about, and what the effects on free speech will be.

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