April 6, 2018 / 6:03 PM / 4 months ago

Facebook backs U.S. regulation of internet political ads

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Friday endorsed U.S. legislation to regulate political ads across the internet, a concession to lawmakers days before he is scheduled to testify in two U.S. congressional hearings.

Zuckerberg also said Facebook would begin requiring people who want to run ads on the social network addressing political issues to verify their identity and location. That expands an earlier plan to require such verification for ads directly about elections.

“Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform, and that’s why we support the Honest Ads Act,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post on Friday.

That legislation was introduced last October to counter concerns about foreign nationals using social media to influence American politics, an issue being looked at as part of an investigation into possible Russian meddling during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Facebook disclosed in September that Russians under fake names had used the social network to try to influence U.S. voters in the months before and after the 2016 election, writing about inflammatory subjects, setting up events and buying ads.

In February, U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies with interfering in the election by sowing discord on social media.

The legislation would expand existing election law covering television and radio outlets to apply to paid internet and digital advertisements on platforms like Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Facebook had previously stopped short of backing the legislation, saying it wanted to work with lawmakers further and announcing attempts at self-regulation.

Zuckerberg is scheduled to appear on Tuesday before a joint hearing of two U.S. Senate committees, and on Wednesday before a U.S. House committee.

Under the Honest Ads Act, digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly views would need to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by anyone spending more than $500.

Zuckerberg said on Friday that he also wanted to shed more light on “issue ads,” or ads that discuss a political subject but do not directly relate to an election or a candidacy.

Issue ads are frequently run by interest groups, lobbying organizations and wealthy individuals who want to influence legislation or have an indirect impact on an election.

Every advertiser who wants to run an issue ad will need to confirm their identity and location, Zuckerberg wrote. (Reporting by David Ingram in San Francisco and Dustin Volz in Washington Editing by Bill Rigby)

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