Alphabet-owned Google has come off the fence to express its ‘strong support’ for a US government initiative to tighten the rules for online political advertising to prevent a repeat of 2016 in which Google was co-opted by Russian propagandists in an attempt to swing voters.
Google, Facebook and Twitter have come in for heavy criticism from politicians after being caught flatfooted by the scandal, failing to prevent agents acting on behalf of the Russian state from buying up advertising slots.
Current US law bans foreign interference in elections although it does permit non-US sources to advertise particular issues so long as they disclose their spending.
In a bid to tighten rules the Federal Election Commission proposed to extend these disclosure rules to apply to all online activity to which Google has now given its blessing.
In its submission Google wrote: “Now more than ever, we must work together to improve transparency, enhance disclosures and reduce foreign abuse and influence in U.S. elections.
“Google strongly supports the commission’s proposal to proceed with a rulemaking so that the commission can provide the clarity that campaigns and other political advertisers need to determine what disclaimers they are required to include.”
Google’s new found enthusiasm for disclosure contrasts with its stance from 2010 when it sought an exemption from the requirement that it should state who purchased ads. Now it is taking a lead role by compiling a public database of election ads purchased through its services and will make information about ad buyers more accessible.
Facebook has calculated that 'inauthentic' Russian accounts spent as much as $100k on advertising during the US presidential race.