Feinstein bill bans bots

A new bill from the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee would but restrictions on the use of social media bots by political groups.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation June 25 to limit the online reach of social media bots during elections.

The Bot Disclosure and Accountability Act would compel social media companies to institute policies that require users on their platform who operate automated software programs designed to mimic or impersonate human beings to disclose this fact on their account profiles. It would also require the platforms to develop "a process to identify, assess and verify" bot activity and take "reasonable" steps to prevent bots from impersonating human users online.

It would also ban the use of bot programs designed to impersonate humans by political campaigns, parties and authorized committees. It does not address the practice of campaigns or their affiliates paying human trolls to provide similar campaign amplification efforts for a candidate online.

"Voters must be able to make informed judgments about the information they receive," said Feinstein in a statement, "and that includes knowing the origin and motives behind these pervasive and fake online personas."

The bill is the latest effort by members of Congress to regulate social media platforms, which are believed to have been the subject to coordinated, bot-driven influence campaigns during the 2016 Presidential election.

Other lawmakers like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have introduced legislation to compel greater disclosure around political advertisements on social media platforms, and Congress as a whole has been mulling potential regulations for Facebook.

Feinstein's bill also includes a section that would limit similar bot usage by political committees, corporations and labor unions. However, it's not immediately clear the section would apply to Super PACs, which are legally considered to be unaffiliated with the campaigns they support and have increasingly taken on more of the heavy lifting of advertising on behalf of political campaigns.