Twitter to reveal more about political ads amid election probe

Twitter on Tuesday vowed to disclose more public information about the political ads that run on its website after the tech firm faced criticism for not doing enough to protect the integrity of U.S. elections.

The San Francisco company said it’s launching a “transparency center,” which will also reveal who is purchasing election ads, how much they’re spending and the audience these organizations are targeting.

Political ads that run on the site will have a different look and feel than other advertisements. The company plans to have stronger penalties for advertisers who violate its online rules.

Silicon Valley tech firms, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, have been looking into how Russia may have used their platforms and services to meddle in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

The move by Twitter comes as the companies face more regulation surrounding online political advertising. While Russia has denied using social media to meddle in the U.S. political election, lawmakers have been digging deeper into what role the country might have played.

On Nov. 1, officials from Facebook, Google and Twitter are expected to testify before the Senate and House Intelligence committees about Russian-linked accounts and ads.

Facebook revealed in September that 470 fake accounts and pages that appear to be linked to Russian entities ran roughly 3,000 ads from 2015 to 2017.

Twitter then told congressional investigators that it pulled down 201 accounts linked to Russian entities that purchased ads on Facebook mostly for violating its rules against spam.

But some lawmakers, including Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, criticized the tech firm afterward for only looking into the Russian-linked accounts that Facebook found.

“A good first step, particularly public disclosure of ads info. Online political ads need more transparency & disclosure,” Warner tweeted on Tuesday about Twitter’s new transparency center.

Last week, Warner and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota and John McCain, R-Arizona, introduced a bill called the Honest Ads Act.

The bill would require digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly visitors to keep a public file of certain election ads and communications. The requirement would apply to a person or group who purchased more than $500 total in ads from the company during 12 months.

A digital copy of the ad, the number of views generated, and other information would be included in this file.

Internet companies would also have to make a “reasonable effort” to ensure that a foreign entity isn’t purchasing ads to influence American elections.

Twitter said it will be rolling out the transparency center in the United States first and then globally.

“We look forward to engaging with Members of Congress and other key stakeholders on these issues as the legislative process continues,” said Bruce Falck, Twitter’s general manager of revenue product and engineering in a statement.

Photo: The Twitter building is photographed Dec. 14, 2015, in San Francisco. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

 

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