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Develop strategy to counter online attacks

U.S. State Department, Voice of America, others splurge on social media ads to reach audiences online.

The Baltimore Sun’s recent editorial, “The lesson of the Russian Facebook ads in Maryland: They’re getting smarter” (Nov. 30), rightly calls attention to the sinister impact of Russia’s online disinformation campaign leading up to the 2016 election – especially given the fact that our very own state of Maryland appears to have served as a prime testing ground for these efforts to sow discord and division. I have been focused hard on these issues in Congress, and there is some good news. We’re building bipartisan momentum to better protect our democracy from these online attacks.

In September, I led a bicameral letter to the Federal Election Commission, asking the agency to establish safeguards that protect American voters from being targeted online by foreign agents. In response, the FEC opened a comment period on whether to proceed with new rules to protect our democracy and promote transparency. I then led a comment letter to support the FEC’s proposed rulemaking, and in response, the FEC announced that it would work to improve ad disclosure on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Those efforts are underway.

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At the same time, a number of us on both sides of the aisle have introduced the Honest Ads Act, a bill that would require social media sites to centrally disclose political ad spending on their platforms – finally bringing sunshine to the role of foreign money in our politics. I am also working with my colleagues to consider additional legislative and regulatory remedies that will strengthen U.S. elections and protect our democracy from foreign interference.

If we can adopt these important measures in a timely fashion, it will help to bolster the integrity of our democracy. The 2018 elections are just around the corner so we need to move quickly. Foreign meddling has no place in our elections.

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John Sarbanes, Towson

The writer, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District, chairs the Democracy Reform Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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