FEC chair summons Facebook, Twitter, Google to disinformation session
The chair of the FEC is summoning Facebook, Google and Twitter to a meeting next month on digital disinformation amid concerns that new forms of Russian-style social media manipulation will target the 2020 election.
“The goal of the symposium will be to identify effective policy approaches and practical tools that can minimize the disruption and confusion sown by fraudulent news and propaganda in the 2020 campaign,” reads the invitation sent by the office of FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, and obtained by POLITICO.
The day-long Sept. 17 event is also slated to involved academics, journalists and representatives from both Democratic and Republican political organizations, according to the invitation, with the session focused on “fighting the disinformation that risks further corroding our democracy.”
Facebook and Twitter plan to send representatives to the session, the companies confirmed to POLITICO. A Google spokesperson did not immediately comment.
While Russian election interference has been a central focus since the 2016 election, the event will address growing concerns about home-grown disinformation, too, according an FEC official familiar with the event, who requested anonymity to discuss the session, which has not yet been made public.
“Under the First Amendment, we don’t ban false statements in advertising and social media, but there’s a difference between the right to speak and the right to be disseminated” online, the official said.
The FEC has been largely ineffective in recent years, with commissioners unable to agree on nearly anything. And it’s slated to become even more hamstrung with the departure of Commissioner Matthew Petersen, effective Saturday. That move will leave the FEC with only three of its six seats filled — and without the quorum needed to vote on substantial matters.
The social networks have been widely criticized for allowing the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency to abuse their platforms during the 2016 election. Many of the Russian ads and posts, which were viewed by millions of people, disparaged Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, boosted Donald Trump or stoked divisions in American society, such as those over the Black Lives Matter movement.
Last year, the commission revived a process to set disclosure rules for online political ads, but the FEC official said that effort is now “inactive.” This week, Facebook announced it’s taking steps to tighten its own self-imposed rules for disclaimers on political advertising on its platform.
Despite the FEC’s political deadlock, Weintraub has waded into a number of election-related controversies. She’s said that there’s “no evidence” of the rampant voter fraud Trump has repeatedly claimed occurred during the 2016 contest.
The September disinformation event is, according to the FEC official, being co-hosted by Stanford University and the non-profit group PEN America, which focuses on free expression issues.