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U.S. Campaign Regulator Considers Changes After Revelation Of Russian Ad Purchases On Facebook

Facebook's disclosure that Russians purchased political ads on the social network during last year's presidential campaign has prompted action by the U.S. agency that regulates campaign practices.

The U.S. Federal Election Commission said on September 14 that it will consider requiring more disclosures for the first time about who placed ads that appear on social media and asked for public comment on whether to revise its current disclaimer requirements, which exempt social-media firms.

"Given the revelations of the past few days regarding the secret purchase of thousands of Internet political ads by foreign actors during the 2016 presidential election, there can no longer reasonably be any doubt that we need to revise and modernize our Internet disclaimer regulations," said Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who raised the matter before the commission.

"The need for us to act grows more compelling every day," she said, "and it is our duty to have these changes in place in time to inform the 2018 elections."

Weintraub said the commission should seek public testimony from Facebook, Twitter, and Google to learn more about who is placing political ads on their networks.

While foreign governments are allowed under U.S. law to buy ads and publicity for certain issues, they must disclose such spending and it is illegal for them to try to interfere in elections. Russia has denied any efforts to interfere.

Last week, Facebook said an operation based in Russia spent $100,000 on thousands of U.S. ads promoting political messages against immigrants and gays. It said it provided its findings to the U.S. Justice Department and congressional committees that are investigating whether Russia meddled in the election.

Facebook has not released copies of the ads, which it said it had deleted after discovering they were placed by Russian organizations.

But the Daily Beast last week said it was able to retrieve some of the deleted ads and found they actively promoted signature issues in U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign platform, such as calling for the deportation of illegal immigrants and building a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Members of the Election Commission disagreed on whether rules changes were needed and whether the Russian Facebook ads were a problem.

"I've drawn no conclusions...about what the ads said or if they're even under our jurisdiction because I have no idea what the text of those ads said," said Lee Goodman, a Republican commissioner, during a meeting on September 14.

Goodman said the matter might fall under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, which enforces laws on foreign agents operating in the country.

Commission Chairman Steven Walther said the commission may need the tech sector to help craft regulations.

"We should make sure that we're going to be able to get the Googles or some of the people who have the technological expertise to help us move in a constructive direction," he said.

Also this week, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said that executives from Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media companies should be called to testify before Congress about Russia's involvement in the election.

"It certainly appears that the Russians were engaged in a multipronged approach in using social media, through paid advertising, through paid event organizing, through dissemination and amplification of false and negative stories," Representative Adam Schiff told reporters in Washington.

With reporting by Reuters
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