Former FEC Chair Calls for Government Agency to help tech companies discover disinformation campaigns

Former FEC Chair Calls for Government Agency to Collect Social Media

Ann Ravel: expand definition of election ads, allow Facebook, Twitter to 'turn over lots of information'

BY: Joe Schoffstall April 10, 2018 10:05 am

Ann Ravel, the former Democratic chair of the Federal Election Commission who controversially pushed to regulate the internet during her time leading the commission, is now suggesting a new government enforcement agency be established to help tech companies discover questionable communications from social media sites in an effort to find alleged disinformation campaigns.

Ravel made the suggestions in a recent Atlantic essay titled "How the Government Could Fix Facebook," which featured insights from a number of experts and suggestions such as imposing fines for data breaches, making tech companies liable for objectionable content, and installing ethics review boards.

Under a section titled "Police Political Advertising" within the piece, the former chair told the publication that the definition of ‘election advertising' should be expanded to help detect new disinformation campaigns that may not be found under the current definition. This could be established if the FEC were to create a "multifaceted test" to help determine if certain additional communications should fall under the category of election-related materials, Ravel said.

Ravel added that if the definition were to be expanded, a new government enforcement agency could be created to help the tech companies find questionable communications, which would also help the FEC.

"For instance, communications could be examined for their intent, and whether they were paid for in a nontraditional way—such as through an automated bot network," The Atlantic writes of Ravel's idea.

The agency could mirror that of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which falls under the Treasury Department and tracks financial activities flagged by large institutions, Ravel said. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has been criticized in the past for allegedly targeting small businesses while letting figures such as former Democratic New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer off the hook.

Ravel claimed that this would allow social media sites—such as Facebook and Twitter—to hand over "lots of communications" from their sites to the government agency.

"The platforms could turn over lots of communications and the investigative agency could then examine them to determine if they are from prohibited sources," Ravel told The Atlantic.

Ravel, who was first nominated to the FEC by President Barack Obama, left the commission last year. Ravel pushed for controversial internet regulations during her time heading the FEC, which came under fire for its alleged potential to target conservative right-leaning outlets such as the Drudge Report.

Ravel became a fellow at New America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that has offices in California and New York, in March 2017. New America is led by Jonathan Soros, the son of liberal billionaire George Soros. Soros also provides funding to the organization.

Ravel remains in the public spotlight and is credited as having a role in an upcoming campaign finance documentary called Dark Money which will be released "just in time for the midterms," Ravel tweeted.

Ravel did not respond to inquiries sent to New America on what types of communications she believes should fall under a "broadened" definition of election advertising.


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