Seventeen Democrats in the House and Senate filed a letter to the FEC on Wednesday urging the election commission to create new rules that would make Facebook and other social networks work to “prevent illicit foreign spending in U.S. elections.”
The move comes after a series of reports over the past several weeks showed Russian troll farms, posing as Americans, planned pro-Trump protests and rallies on U.S. soil during the 2016 election.
Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) said the goal is to “learn more about how Facebook focused in on” Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I’m going forward with the expectation that they’ll be cooperative and transparent so we get standards about making sure that won’t happen in the future. But the FEC’s gotta turn around and create a new set of standards for those industries to abide by,” Sarbanes told The Daily Beast.
“Then, if (social media networks) don’t abide by them, I think there should be real penalties involved.”
The letter gives the FEC until October 4th to respond to Congress with ways to quell “foreign nationals (who) deployed sophisticated tactics in making political expenditures to evade detection, with the express purpose of undermining the integrity of our elections.”
Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Sherrod Brown, and Corey Booker, high-profile Democratic Senators with potential ambitions for the 2020 presidential election, added their signature to the letter.
Sarbanes said the FEC needs to establish better guidelines to “get this transparency happening before it’s too late.”
“We’re always catching up on the things that went wrong in our elections afterwards,” he said. “The goal here is you can establish some basic standards there that will force the Facebooks of the world to put systems in place to catch this activity on the front end. You can get this transparency happening before it’s too late.”
Kremlin-backed trolls identifying themselves as the Internet Research Agency spent at least $100,000 targeting Americans with pro-Russian propaganda and pro-Trump content last year, Facebook revealed this month. The company has not released the posts or specific pages, which have since been removed from the service, and has not alerted users who may have been targeted with the posts or advertisements.
Sarbanes said he worked to make the letter a bipartisan effort, but couldn’t find a Republican in the House or Senate to sign on.
“I think their leadership has probably said, ‘don’t attach yourself to anything with the word Russia in it.’ But I know that there’s interest among them,” said Sarbanes.