Better defenses for our election systems

By John Diaz, Editorial Page Editor
San Francisco Chronicle, April 13th, 2018

Americans cannot afford to wait for their president to acknowledge that a hostile foreign government meddled in the most fundamental act of democracy, an election, and is ready to do so again. That day may never come with President Trump, who seems to regard any admission of Russian interference on his behalf as delegitimizing his 2016 election

There is no time to wait...

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, state Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, has written AB2188 to require social medial platforms to disclose the true identity of the funders of political advertisements. The Mullin bill is a natural extension of his Disclose Act, signed into law last year.

“Much of the new money in politics is moving in the social media space,†Mullin said by phone Thursday. “We just want to make sure that the same disclosure requirements for TV and radio are applicable for social media buys by state candidates and state ballot measures, so California voters know who is really behind these measures.â€

What's most important about the Mullin bill is that it does not just require the names of the organizations behind a measure or candidate -- which can often be deceptive, such as a business group masquerading with a consumer name -- but the actual funders of the advertisement.

Mullin said he has received some resistance from social media companies, but those discussions were before the scandal in which it was revealed that personal information of millions of Facebook users ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a company that exploited that data to foment divisions among the electorate and advance the candidacy of Donald Trump.

“If I were in a position in those companies, I would get behind this bill to demonstrate that here in their home state we are going to craft and work with them and partner with them to create the toughest disclosure recommendations for social media advertising in the country,†Mullin said.

It remains to be seen whether Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, fresh off a humbling two days of testimony in Washington, D.C., will have the enlightened self-interest to recognize the value of working with state legislators before they go ahead without them -- and with the public cheering every step of privacy protection.

“Given what we know, I'm just not comfortable with these (social media) platforms self-regulating,†Mullin said. “We have to put some regulation and strong language (on political advertising disclosure) into California law.â€

This bill belongs on the must-do list in Sacramento.

See the article on San Francisco Chronicle website

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