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Spanberger, Katko Urge House to Crack Down on Foreign-Backed Disinformation in Elections

January 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON – Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and John Katko, R-N.Y., are urging their House colleagues to support bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting the U.S. from foreign-based disinformation campaigns.

According to the lawmakers, foreign governments took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election to carry out their plan to infiltrate and influence public discourse.

Spanberger and Katko go on to say that Russia, China and Iran were among those most active in these efforts.

Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which they reintroduced Friday, political ads, issue advocacy, and content funded or directed by a foreign principal and intended to influence the U.S. government or the American people must be disclosed to the Department of Justice before their dissemination.

However, under current statute and practice, this often does not extend to social media. Additionally, foreign agents acting from abroad too often evade disclaimer requirements. 

The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement Act reintroduced by Spanberger and Katko on Friday, would increase transparency by requiring disclaimers attributing political content to a foreign principal be embedded on the face of a social media post itself.

With this new requirement, disclaimers would remain with a post whenever the post is subsequently shared. The FADE Act would also clarify that these disclaimer requirements apply to the internet and apply to any political communications directed at the United States — regardless of the foreign agent’s location around the world.

“The United States must be on guard against those who seek to sow division and spread false information,” Spangerger said. “Disclaimers on misleading, foreign-backed social media posts are often non-existent, particularly when content is shared or linked. In these instances, social media works as a rumor mill for disinformation.”

“By requiring foreign disclaimers within the actual content of social media posts, we can make sure the public knows the origins of information — and we can strengthen our democracy for the better,” she said.

“Our nation’s enemies have used social media as a vehicle to deploy disinformation and interfere in our elections. With this in mind, I’m joining Rep. Spanberger in introducing the Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement (FADE) Act,” Katko said. 

“This legislation would establish enforceable tools to ensure visible disclaimers are included in political posts from foreign agents. I urge my colleagues to support this measure to increase transparency, reduce the spread of disinformation, and protect our democratic processes from foreign influence,” he said.

To ensure enforcement of these new transparency measures, the FADE Act would require DOJ to notify online platforms if a foreign agent does not meet disclaimer requirements for posts on their platforms, and in these cases, require the platform to remove the materials and use reasonable efforts to inform recipients of the materials that the information they saw was disseminated by a foreign agent.

Additionally, the bipartisan bill would require DOJ to prepare a report to Congress on enforcement challenges.

 The FADE Act is endorsed by the Campaign Legal Center and Issue One.

Click here to read the full bill text.

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