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Pawar wants disclosure requirement for political ads on social media

Ameya Pawar

Ald. Ameya Pawar h| Sun-Times file photo

If there are disclosure requirements for political advertising on radio, television, billboards and in print, why are there no disclaimers for social media?

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) raised the question Tuesday then answered it with a proposal to fill the regulatory void.

Pawar plans to introduce an amendment to the city’s ethics ordinance requiring the mayor, clerk, treasurer, aldermen, city employees, lobbyists and groups that support candidates for public office in Chicago to disclose the ads they pay for on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or any other social media platform.

“There is a lot of false information that is influencing our electoral process. People are spending money, including foreign agents, influencing our process, and there’s no disclosure requirement,” said Pawar, who recently dropped out of the crowded Democratic primary race for governor.

“We regulate TV ads. We regulate billboards. We regulate mail pieces and signs. But there is no regulation on social media activities and there’s a lot of money being spent on digital media. Facebook has been reticent to create a disclosure notice. So, we have a responsibility at the local level to advance the cause and hope that other major cities join Chicago.”

Congressional committees and a special counsel are investigating whether Russian agents used social-media advertising as part of a campaign to try to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook executives have disclosed that accounts affiliated with Russia spent $100,000 on politically divisive ads in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. The ads used tools that included “Custom Audiences” to target specific voter groups in Michigan, Wisconsin and other swing states.

The disclosure prompted three senators to introduce legislation that would require more disclosure of online advertisers.

Google and Facebook have already proposed changes aimed at eliminating fake news. Both companies have said they’re willing to work with lawmakers and regulators to enhance advertising transparency.

Pawar said he’s not willing to wait to regulate, what he called, “the best and fastest and most efficient way to reach voters.”

His proposed amendment would also require disclosure whenever a city employee, elected official, lobbyist or group supporting a candidate for office in Chicago attempts to “boost content” on social media by targeting specific audiences.