Politico: AT&T, Time Warner Chiefs Make Their Case

A team of University of Wisconsin, Madison researchers parsed more than 5 million paid Facebook ads seen by some 9,500 people in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election. In a peer-reviewed study to be published in the academic journal Political Communication, professor Young Mie Kim and her team found the scope of ads paid for by "suspicious" groups — or organizations whose online and social media information was limited or nonexistent — goes beyond the Russian interference that has dominated headlines. There were 103 advertisers who met the "suspicious" definition, not including 19 that were later identified as tied to the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency. The ads centered around both candidates and issues, such as abortion and LGBT rights, and often targeted users based on their geography, race and income level. Facebook users in the swing states of Virginia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were the most targeted, the study found.

Washington-based nonpartisan advocacy groups Issue One and Campaign Legal Center, where Kim is a scholar in residence, say the findings are proof Congress needs to pass the Honest Ads Act (S. 1989 (115)). That bill from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John McCain (R.-Ariz.) would require online ads endorsing candidates or advocating political positions be subject to greater disclosures about who is paying for them. “This study demonstrates the importance of Congress addressing campaign finance law’s internet blind spot," said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform program at CLC. "The protection of American elections from foreign interference cannot be left to voluntary measures by tech companies.”

Read the full article