Skip to main content

Klobuchar's proposal to hold Facebook, Google and Twitter accountable for shady election ads

Sen. Amy Klobuchar has a proposal that would close the online election ad loophole.

When someone buys a political ad on TV or radio in the weeks before an election, they generally have to file a report. It includes things like who bought the ad, how much money was spent, and which candidates are referred to.

When someone buys a political ad online, say through Facebook or Google? None of that needs to be disclosed.

It's those "outdated" laws that Sen. Amy Klobuchar and two of her colleagues are taking aim at, introducing a bill to make internet election ads far more transparent.

The Honest Ads Act would bring paid internet and digital advertisements more in line with the standards TV and radio are held to, according to Klobuchar's announcement.

Any digital platform with at least 50 million monthly viewers (peanuts to Facebook) would have to keep a public file of all "electioneering communications" (election-related ads, paid for in the couple months before the election) if the ad buy was more than $500. It would have to include:

  • A digital copy of the ad.
  • A description of the audience the ad targeted.
  • How many views the ad got.
  • The date and time it was published.
  • How much the ad cost.
  • And contact information for whoever bought it.

Those online platforms would also be required to undertake "all reasonable efforts" to make sure foreign individuals and groups are not buying ads to try to interfere with an election.

Klobuchar painted it as "an issue of national security."

"Russia attacked us and will continue to use different tactics to undermine our democracy and divide our country, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads," she said. 

She introduced the proposal Thursday with Sens. Mark Warner (Democrat from Virginia) and John McCain (Republican from Arizona).

Why this is a big deal

Facebook in September revealed thousands of ads were purchased by Russian accounts leading up to and after the 2016 election. The goal of those ads was generally to inflame and manipulate political discussion by touching on hypersensitive topics: gun control or racial justice, for example.

After Facebook came forward, the New York Times said Google found Russia-linked election ads had been bought on its websites, such as YouTube and Gmail. Russian-linked Twitter accounts also spent more than a quarter-million dollars on that platform, CNBC said.

Foreign nationals can not give money or help in connection with any election in the U.S. It's also illegal for them to donate to any political party or organization, at any level, or advocate for (or against) a specific candidate. It's all in the FEC's rules.

But according to Reuters, the law only covers TV and radio – it does not mention online.

Whether election laws were violated in this whole Russia-online ads saga is not clear right now, as the Washington Post explains. If the Russian accounts had any type of help or coordination with a campaign, or if the ads clearly endorse a candidate, then yeah, it probably was illegal.

If the ads were broader, then there might be some legal wiggle room, the Washington Post says.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in late September announced new rules about ad transparency, including better review of political ads. 

But the technology shift over the past 15 years has created an online loophole in the laws of the U.S. (Slate dives into it more here) that Klobuchar, Warner and McCain argue should be closed.

"This bipartisan legislation would help protect our democracy by updating our laws to ensure that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as TV or radio stations – and make them public so Americans can see who is trying to influence them," said Klobuchar.

Next Up

Brandon Gardas

St. Michael standoff suspect charged, bail set at $10 million

A judge on Monday set the high bail due to "very significant concerns of public safety" regarding Brandon Gardas.


Minnesota's premier trauma center housed at HCMC

The Minneapolis center is nationally recognized in pediatric trauma

Crisp & Green

Crisp & Green opening 13th store in Twin Cities in July

The fast-casual salad and grains restaurant has exploded onto the food scene.

FLickr - Target Field 2019 - mark grabe

Twins to host post-game concert with country star at Target Field

Country singer Cole Swindell is expected to perform for up to 75 minutes after the conclusion of the Blue Jays-Twins contest.


Canton Restaurant closes after nearly 40 years in Burnsville

It's the end of an era in the Twin Cities restaurant world.

Screen Shot 2022-06-27 at 12.47.20 PM

Luck strikes in Minnesota: lottery winners in Duluth, Grand Marais

The North Shore just so happened to be a lucky place to be this past weekend.


Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Monday, June 27

BA.5 is expected to become the dominant subvariant in Minnesota.

police lights squad car

60-year-old woman arrested after firing shots inside Spicer home

SWAT evacuated nearby residents during the incident.

Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line booked to play at the Minnesota State Fair

The band is the second country music act to be booked this year.


First case of monkeypox confirmed in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health says the risk to the public is "considered low" at this time.


Watch: Al Franken loses his mind while quizzing Facebook lawyer about Russian ads

The senator shouted at Facebook's lawyer about ads bought with Russian roubles.

Update: Franken explains why Russian ads on Facebook bring up 'serious concerns'

Facebook said Russian accounts ran ads specifically about divisive issues in America.

Report of Russian cyberattack days before election has Klobuchar concerned

A leaked NSA document published by The Intercept says Russian intelligence launched a cyberattack days before the election.

Instagram Stories is getting photo and video ads

Instagram rolled out Stories last August, and has added a bunch of new features – including ads now.

Facebook's big change to your news feed shows it still doesn't know how to fix its problems

An upcoming change to your news feed indicates the company doesn't know what to do.

Facebook's new endorse a candidate feature is a glorified status update

Because what we all need is more chances to talk politics in Facebook comments.

Facebook is trying to make fewer crappy links show up on your feed

You know the ones – where the page you go to is full of an absurd number of ads.

Klobuchar asks what steps were taken to protect 2016 election from cyber threats

Sen. Amy Klobuchar – with 25 other supporters in the Senate – wants a detailed explanation.