Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am the chair of the Federal Election Commission in the United States. I represent a bipartisan body, but the views that I'm going to express are entirely my own.
I'm going to shift the topic from privacy concerns to influence campaigns.
In March of this year, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III completed his report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Its conclusions were chilling. The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systemic fashion. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favoured one presidential candidate and disparaged the other. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer intrusion operations against campaign entities, employees and volunteers, and then released stolen documents.
On April 26, 2019, at the Council on Foreign Relations, FBI director Christopher A. Wray warned of the aggressive, unabated, malign foreign influence campaign consisting of “the use of social media, fake news, propaganda, false personas, etc., to spin us up, pit us against each other, sow divisiveness and discord, and undermine Americans' faith in democracy. That is not just an election cycle threat; it's pretty much a 365-days-a-year threat. And that has absolutely continued.”
While he noted that “enormous strides have been made since 2016 by all different federal agencies, state and local election officials, the social media companies, etc.,” to protect the physical infrastructure of our elections, he said, “I think we recognize that our adversaries are going to keep adapting and upping their game. And so we're very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020.”
Last week, at the House of Representatives, a representative of the Department of Homeland Security also emphasized that Russia and other foreign countries, including China and Iran, conducted influence activities in the 2018 mid-terms and messaging campaigns that targeted the United States to promote their strategic interests.
As you probably know, election administration in the United States is decentralized. It's handled at the state and local levels, so other officials in the United States are charged with protecting the physical infrastructure of our elections, the brick-and-mortar electoral apparatus run by state and local governments, and it is vital that they continue to do so.
However, from my seat on the Federal Election Commission, I work every day with another type of election infrastructure, the foundation of our democracy, the faith that citizens have that they know who's influencing our elections. That faith has been under malicious attack from our foreign foes through disinformation campaigns. That faith has been under assault by the corrupting influence of dark money that may be masking illegal foreign sources. That faith has been besieged by online political advertising from unknown sources. That faith has been damaged through cyber-attacks against political campaigns ill-equipped to defend themselves on their own.
That faith must be restored, but it cannot be restored by Silicon Valley. Rebuilding this part of our elections infrastructure is not something we can leave in the hands of the tech companies, the companies that built the platforms now being abused by our foreign rivals to attack our democracies.
In 2016, fake accounts originating in Russia generated content that was seen by 126 million Americans on Facebook, and another 20 million Americans on Instagram, for a total of 146 million Americans; and there were only 137 million voters in that election.
As recently as 2016, Facebook was accepting payment in rubles for political ads about the United States elections.
As recently as last year, in October 2018, journalists posing as every member of the United States Senate tried to place ads in their names on Facebook. Facebook accepted them all.
Therefore, when the guys on the other panel keep telling us they've got this, we know they don't.
By the way, I also invited Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, all those guys, to come and testify at a hearing at my commission when we were talking about Internet disclosure of advertising, and once again, they didn't show up. They didn't even send a surrogate that time; they just sent us written comments, so I feel for you guys.
This is plainly really important to all of us. In the United States, spending on digital political ads went up 260% from 2014 to 2018, from one mid-term election to the next, for a total of $900 million in digital advertising in the 2018 election. That was still less than was spent on broadcast advertising, but obviously digital is the wave of the future when it comes to political advertising.
There have been constructive suggestions and proposals in the United States to try to address this: the honest ads act, which would subject Internet ads to the same rules as broadcast ads; the Disclose Act, which would broaden the transparency and fight against dark money; and at my own agency I've been trying to advance a rule that would improve disclaimers on Internet advertising. All of those efforts so far have been stymied.
Now, we have been actually fortunate that the platforms have tried to do something. They have tried to step up, in part, I'm sure, to try to ward off regulation, but in part to respond to widespread dissatisfaction with the information and the disclosure they were providing. They have been improving, in the United States at least, the way they disclose who's behind their ads, but it's not enough. Questions keep coming up, such as about what triggers the requirement to post the disclaimer.
Can the disclaimers be relied upon to honestly identify the sources of the digital ads? Based on the study about the 100 senators ads, apparently they cannot, not all the time, anyway. Does the identifying information travel with the content when information is forwarded? How are the platforms dealing with the transmission of encrypted information? Peer-to-peer communication represents a burgeoning field for political activity, and it raises a whole new set of potential issues. Whatever measures are adopted today run the serious risk of targeting the problems of the last cycle, not the next one, and we know that our adversaries are constantly upping their game, as I said, and constantly improvising and changing their strategies.
I also have serious concerns about the risks of foreign money creeping into our election system, particularly through corporate sources. This is not a hypothetical concern. We recently closed an enforcement case that involved foreign nationals who managed to funnel $1.3 million into the coffers of a super PAC in the 2016 election. This is just one way that foreign nationals are making their presence and influence felt even at the highest levels of our political campaigns.
These kinds of cases are increasingly common, and these kinds of complaints are increasingly common in the United States. From September 2016 to April 2019, the number of matters before the commission that include alleged violations of the foreign national ban increased from 14 to 40, and there were 32 open matters as of April 1 of this year. This is again an ongoing concern when it comes to foreign influence.
As everything you've heard today demonstrates, serious thought has to be given to the impact of social media on our democracy. Facebook's originating philosophy of “move fast and break things”, cooked up 16 years ago in a college dorm room, has breathtaking consequences when the thing they're breaking could be our democracies themselves.
Facebook, Twitter, Google, these and other technology giants have revolutionized the way we access information and communicate with each other. Social media has the power to foster citizen activism, virally spread disinformation or hate speech and shape political discourse.
Government cannot avoid its responsibility to scrutinize this impact. That's why I so welcome the activities of this committee and appreciate very much everything you're doing, which has carryover effects in my country, even when we can't adopt our own regulations when you all adopt regulations in other countries. Sometimes the platforms maintain the same policies throughout the world, and that helps us. Thank you very much
Also, thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this event. I welcome your questions.