Former FEC Chair Who Sought To Regulate Drudge: Big Tech Should Approve Political Ads

Getty Images

Rudy Takala Contributor
Font Size:

The former federal official who sought to regulate online media outlets would like Facebook, Google and Twitter to start fact-checking political content on their platforms ahead of the 2020 election, suggesting that while Facebook has taken some measures to that effect, the public is “outraged” over the failure to do more.

“Amidst the outrage, Facebook is considering changing how political ads are targeted and labeled,” former FEC Chair Ann Ravel wrote in a Dec. 18 op-ed for CNN. “But as long as it stands by its no fact-checking policy — which it so far has done — Facebook has given tacit approval to those running for office to say anything they like, while not granting the same privilege as others.”

Facebook has said that while it will not fact-check ads from political candidates, it will fact-check ads from other groups. Ravel similarly criticized Google and Twitter. (RELATED: Democrats Want A New, Partisan Majority At FEC To Regulate Internet)

“Google, which owns YouTube, announced that it would limit certain types of political ad targeting, but made no change in allowing politicians to run false ads,” Ravel wrote. She noted that Twitter would allow some advertisers “so long as they do not advocate for or against political or legislative outcomes,” but said the effective ban on political candidates “will favor incumbents and establishment candidates with deeper pockets (who can afford television advertising) over smaller challengers.”

As a member of the FEC from 2013-17, Ravel fought to enact rules that would have regulated unpaid political content online, a move that Republicans viewed as a backdoor effort to regulate conservative media such as the Drudge Report. The effort extended to deadlocked votes over Twitter and YouTube. (RELATED: TAKALA: Think Google Controls The News? It’s Worse Than You Think, Experts Say)

“If five commissioners comprised the FEC instead of six, free YouTube videos … would have been punished when I was a commissioner,” Lee Goodman, who served as a Republican member of the commission from 2013-18,” said in a September interview with the Daily Caller.

As a result of rancor over “fake news” during the 2016 election cycle, as well as the 2018 revelation that British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica misused personal data from Facebook to “microtarget” users during the election, Silicon Valley has sought to change how it deals with political advertising. Google and Twitter have announced that they would limit microtargeting, while Facebook is considering a similar measure.

Ravel said the discrepancies were confusing, and that it would be better for regulators to impose a universal set of rules. 

“For decades, radio and television stations have been subject to transparency requirements for political advertisements,” Ravel wrote. “It is astounding that a similar system has not already been put in place for digital media. (RELATED: Former FEC Chair: First Amendment Responsible For More ‘Violent Hate Crimes’ Than Terrorism)

“Political discourse is the bedrock of a representative democracy,” she added. “We want truthful political discourse and debate to inform voters during elections and when discussing important issues that will affect our daily lives. This is not possible without true transparency. Ultimately, social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google shouldn’t be making sweeping decisions about political speech. If Congress and the FEC did their jobs, they wouldn’t have to.”

Ravel earned two meetings with President Obama at the White House during her tenure at the FEC, which reportedly led to the suggestion of a “quid pro quo” that would involve her leaving the agency to replace California’s then-Attorney General Kamala Harris. However, former California Gov. Jerry Brown ultimately appointed Xavier Becerra to fill the role, and Becerra won election to the position in 2018. Ravel is presently running for a seat in the California Senate.