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U.S. Senators Single Out Russia In Push Against Anonymous Online Political Ads

John McCain (left) and Amy Klobuchar (right) , two of the U.S. senators behind the initiative (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan trio of U.S. senators has introduced legislation to regulate paid political ads that appear on Facebook, Google, and other social media in an effort to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections, with special emphasis placed on alleged actions by Russia.

The move by Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar, and Republican John McCain on October 19 comes on the heels of allegations that Russia used anonymous ads on social media platforms to meddle and influence opinions during the last year's U.S. presidential election.

The proposed Honest Ads Act would update laws already in place to also classify paid internet and digital ads as election-related communications, "putting it on a par" with existing laws regarding television, radio, and print, Klobuchar told a news conference.

"In the wake of Russia's attack on the 2016 election, it is more important than ever to strengthen our defenses against foreign interference in our elections," McCain said in a statement accompanying the proposals.

"Unfortunately, U.S. laws requiring transparency in political campaigns have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology," his statement added.

Klobuchar said that "we all know that Russian threats to our national security don’t always involve traditional weapons of war."

She said the legislation would require online platforms with more than 50 million average monthly users to "maintain a public file so people know what is in these ads."

She said it would demand that platforms "do a better job of policing their sites" to ensure that laws preventing foreign nations from influencing U.S. elections are not violated.

It would also force advertisers spending a cumulative total of $500 or more on political ads to disclose their purchases.

The latest fury was ignited after Facebook said that some 10 million people had seen advertisements linked to Russian entities on its platform before and after the 2016 election.

Facebook said at least $100,000 in ads were paid for in rubles to accounts traced to Russia.

Facebook's disclosure of the Russian-financed ads, which it said appeared to be aimed at fanning divisions among U.S. voters over issues such as homosexuality, race, and immigration, was followed recently by similar disclosures from Google and Twitter.

In the past, technology companies have resisted attempts to force them into disclosing information about paid advertisers, although some have said they would cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the election.

On October 19, Facebook and Twitter said they would send their general counsels to testify on November 1 before two Congressional panels investigating Russian meddling.

An executive from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has not yet confirmed reports that it is planning to attend as well.

Warner and Klobuchar said that 85 percent of paid online political ads go through Facebook and Google.

Warner and Klobuchar said they were not certain about the bill’s prospects in Congress but that they hoped to get something passed by early next year or to have the provisions attached to another piece of legislation.

The action comes on larger backdrop of allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia actively interfered in the U.S. presidential election in support of then-candidate Donald Trump, who went on to win the presidency.

At least two congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller are conducting probes into the allegations and to investigate whether there was any collusion with members of the Trump campaign team.

Trump has assailed the investigations, often labeling them "witch hunts," and denying any collusion by him or his team with Russian entities.

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