New from the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech today released an analysis of the “Honest Ads Act” (S. 1989) that says the bill would impose broad-based regulations on the political speech of Americans and do almost nothing to regulate foreign interference in elections…
“Legislation that responds to foreign meddling by regulating the speech of Americans will not limit foreign influence in American political campaigns. Worse, it will impede the ability of Americans to use their own speech to call out and expose ‘fake news’ and propaganda,” said Eric Wang, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Free Speech…
The “Honest Ads Act” (S. 1989) was introduced and sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). It is co-sponsored by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ). It is currently with the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.
By Eric Wang
Americans’ First Amendment rights to free speech are foundational to our open society, our democratic discourse, and our way of life. Like all Americans, the Institute for Free Speech (“IFS”) is deeply disturbed by Russian efforts to exploit our open society to interfere in our election campaigns and sow discord among Americans. Any legislative response, however, should be tailored to addressing foreign actors. Legislation that attempts to limit foreign interference in our democracy by broadly regulating the free speech rights of Americans would, in fact, undermine our democracy and directly advance Vladimir Putin’s agenda.
S. 1989, the so-called “Honest Ads Act,” fails both tests: it fails to meaningfully address foreign interference, while placing considerable limits and burdens on the online political speech of Americans…
The provisions of S. 1989 are not limited to, or even specifically aimed at, regulating political speech by foreign interests. Rather, the bill proposes to regulate online political speech for all Americans. Keeping this in mind, it is important to note at the outset that, even by the sponsors’ own accounts and the legislative findings included in the bill’s preamble, the “Honest Ads Act” takes a sledgehammer to a problem requiring a scalpel. It regulates a huge swath of online political speech, nearly all of it from Americans, in order to regulate a miniscule percentage of ads from foreign sources.
By Alex Cordell
Proponents of greater speech regulation often argue that candidates and groups who spend more money on elections have an unfair advantage, and, therefore, that we need more limits on political spending. But can money really buy an election? Check out the Institute for Free Speech’s newest infographic on the 2017 Alabama special primary and runoff election between Luther Strange and Roy Moore to see if money really did make an impact on this race.
Internet Speech Regulation
U.S. News & World Report: No Likes for Internet Regulation
By Brent Skorup and Michael Kotrous
The American public should be skeptical of renewed calls for utility regulation of online media. Open discourse is a cornerstone of democratic society, but shifting the discretion of what is acceptable online from technologists and editors to political appointees only empowers politicians to suppress speech they oppose.
The history of media regulation enacted in the name of the “public interest” shows such rules better serve D.C. insiders and powerful activists than the American consumer or electorate…
Lawmakers therefore must be on guard against legitimate concerns that may be used to justify broad, quasi-utility regulation of online platforms.
Many in Congress, for instance, believe Facebook, Google and Twitter were complicit in allowing Russian stakeholders to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. With journalists finding that Russia-linked Facebook ads were seen by 10 million users in swing states, some politicians are set on policing Facebook’s advertising policies and issuing disclosure requirements to protect “electoral integrity” going forward…
The history of American media regulation has a clear lesson: Authorizing elected officials and political appointees to determine the nature of open discourse eventually chills the exercise of free speech and empowers the already powerful.
By Cecilia King, Nicholas Fandos, and Mike Isaac
The hearing, the first of three in two days for company executives, served as an initial public reckoning for the internet giants…
Senators pushed for harsher remedies, including regulations on their advertising practices akin to rules for political advertising on television…
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, the chairman of the crime and terrorism subcommittee that held the hearing, said the risk went beyond Russia to other American adversaries. Talking to reporters afterward, he alluded to potential regulation of political advertising online.
“It’s Russia today; it could be Iran and North Korea tomorrow,” Mr. Graham said. “What we need to do is sit down and find ways to bring some of the controls we have on over-the-air broadcast to social media to protect the consumer.”
Facebook, Twitter and Google have not publicly opposed a bipartisan proposal to require reports on who funds political ads online, similar to rules for broadcast television. In private, their lobbyists have praised voluntary efforts to disclose political ad funding and have resisted many aspects of the bill.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said the legislation was essential before the midterm elections in 2018.
“Our midterms are 370 days away, and we don’t have time to mess around with dialogue anymore,” Ms. Klobuchar said in an interview after the hearing.
Wall Street Journal: Senators Press Tech Officials Over Missed Signs of Russia Influence
By Byron Tau and Deepa Seetharaman
Other members expressed concerns about tech companies taking too great a role in policing speech-raising First Amendment concerns about the control that the tech giants have over the public square.
“The prospect of Silicon Valley companies actively censoring speech or the news content is troubling to anyone who cares about a democratic process with a robust First Amendment,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas.).
All three companies also vowed that they were developing policies to provide better political ad disclosure but expressed hesitation in endorsing new legislation.
In response to questions from Sen. Klobuchar, a sponsor of legislation to require social media companies to register political advertisements purchased on their platforms in a federal database, asked representatives of all three companies if they supported her bill. The proposal calls for regulating digital political advertising media more like the ads that appear on television and radio.
“We certainly support the goals of the legislation and hope to work through the nuances,” said Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security.
U.S. News & World Report: Blame the Manipulator, Not the Messenger
By Peter Roff
There’s a strong temptation, reflected in legislation already introduced to regulate political communications on the Internet, to blame the messengers rather than the manipulators. The idea that Facebook, Twitter and other platforms are somehow to blame for the use they were put to by the Russians – or by trolls in another country working on their behalf – is akin to blaming the auto manufacturers for the fatalities that come as a result of drunk driving. It’s important, as the conversation moves ahead, to keep the focus where it belongs.
Facebook has volunteered it believes content attributable to Russian-backed trolls went directly to 29 million Americans over a two year period. They in turn sent it along to friends, family and followers until the total audience reached something close to 126 million people.
That may sound like a big number – and it is. It’s about a third of the country but, to put things in perspective, over that same two year period Americans received 33 trillion items in their newsfeeds. The disinformation, if you can call it that, posted by the trolls constitutes less than one half of 1 percent of what people saw.
Furthermore, and this is really the important point, no one has yet provided any hard evidence these information bits swayed a single voter.
By Issie Lapowsky
Complicating matters, many members of Congress investigating these issues appear to be unclear about precisely what these companies do and how they do it. That surfaced in questions posed by Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse on the topic of voter-suppression tactics. Blumenthal showed the committee a widely circulated tweet showing comedian Aziz Ansari holding a Photoshopped sign claiming Americans could vote from home. Blumenthal and Whitehouse pressed Twitter’s Edgett to tell them exactly how many people tried to vote by text, as the tweet suggested people do.
Edgett said Twitter would have no way of knowing the number, which would require phone companies to analyze the private texts of their customers. “Let me request that you endeavor as best you can do get us this information,” Blumenthal insisted.
That leaves us with tech companies that woke up to this threat far too late attempting to explain themselves to investigators who, in some cases, fundamentally misunderstand the platforms’ ability to address it. It’s little wonder then that those solutions Congress seeks are proving to be elusive.
By Emily Ekins
Most Americans (59%) think people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those deeply offensive to other people. Forty percent (40%) think government should prevent hate speech in public. Nonetheless, an overwhelming majority (79%) agree that it is “morally unacceptable” to engage in hate speech against racial or religious groups. Thus, the public appears to distinguish between allowing offensive speech and endorsing it.
Despite this, the survey also found Americans willing to censor, regulate, or punish a wide variety of speech and expression they personally find offensive…
A majority of Republicans (63%) agree with President Trump that journalists today are an “enemy of the American people.” Conversely, most Americans (64%), as well as 89% of Democrats and 61% of independents, do not view journalists as the enemy.
Despite this, Republicans (63%) agree with most Americans (70%), including Democrats (76%) and independents (71%), that government should not have the power to stop news stories even if officials say they are biased or inaccurate.
By Ginger Gibson
“Today is another unnecessary black eye for the lobbying profession,” said Paul Miller, a lobbyist who heads the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics (NILE). “The indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates should send a message to the lobbying profession that this type of activity cannot be tolerated and to Congress that its time to take a hard look at the (Lobbying Disclosure Act).” …
NILE has previously encouraged Congress to close loopholes in the Lobbying Disclosure Act, known as LDA, to make lobbying more transparent by subjecting more activity to disclosure and requiring lobbyists to reveal when an intermediary hires them on behalf of another organization.
Two separate laws require lobbying disclosure: The LDA, which covers domestic interests, and the Foreign Agents Registration Act, under which Manafort was charged and requires disclosure for lobbying on behalf of foreign entities.