U.S. House Passes Spanberger’s Legislation to Crack Down on Foreign-Backed Disinformation in U.S. Political System, Identify Foreign Propaganda across Social Media Platforms
The Congresswoman’s FADE Act Would Require Disclaimers Within the Content of Social Media Posts for Foreign-Backed Political Content
Washington, March 3, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives tonight voted to pass U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger’s legislation to protect against the influence of foreign nations that seek to sow political division in the United States through online disinformation campaigns.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), political ads, issue advocacy, and content funded or directed by a foreign principal and intended to influence the U.S. government or the American people must be disclosed to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). However, under current statute and practice, this often does not extend to social media. Additionally, foreign agents acting from abroad too often evade disclaimer requirements.
Spanberger’s Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement (FADE) Act would increase transparency by requiring disclaimers attributing political content to a foreign principal be embedded on the face of a social media post itself. With this new requirement, disclaimers would remain with a post whenever the post is subsequently shared. The FADE Act would also clarify that these disclaimer requirements apply to the internet and apply to any political communications directed at the United States — regardless of the foreign agent’s location around the world.
Ahead of the legislation’s passage as an amendment to the For the People Act, Spanberger spoke on the floor in support of her legislation. Click here to watch her remarks, and a full transcript of her remarks is found below.
I rise today in support of my amendment to H.R.1 to crack down on foreign backed-disinformation and propaganda on social media. This amendment is the text of the bipartisan Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement (FADE) Act. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, political ads, issue campaigns, and content funded or directed by a foreign principal and intended to influence the American people must be disclosed to the Department of Justice.
But too often, this rule does not extend to the world of social media. Additionally, foreign agents acting from abroad too often evade current disclaimer requirements. Amid the pandemic and following the 2020 general election, foreign governments continue to exploit existing vulnerabilities in our national security, including by influencing Americans directly and infiltrating public discourse — without their knowledge. Foreign adversaries — such as Russia, China, and Iran — are among the most active, and they are increasingly assertive in their efforts.
This amendment would help protect against foreign influence that seeks to sow political division and promote dangerous disinformation. My amendment would require disclaimers clearly stating that this content is coming from a foreign principal.
Spanberger reintroduced a standalone version of this legislation in January 2021 alongside U.S. Representative John Katko (R-NY-24). Spanberger and Katko first introduced their legislation in October 2020.
“The FADE Act brings the Foreign Agents Registration Act into the 21st Century. This bill accounts for the unique characteristics of digital influence campaigns, clarifying that FARA applies even when a foreign agent is acting from abroad, and making clear that foreign agents must include disclaimers on all digital messages,” said Brendan Fischer, Director, Federal Reform Program, Campaign Legal Center. “This important measure led by Rep. Spanberger would protect Americans' right to know when they are being influenced by foreign sources. Foreign actors seeking to influence U.S. politics online must at least be transparent about it.”
“Year after year, national security experts confirm that foreign adversaries are using social media, in addition to paid advertising, to spread disinformation meant to disrupt our political system. These activities cause Americans to distrust our democratic process,” said Meredith McGehee, Executive Director, Issue One. “The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement Act would take necessary steps toward stopping unpaid foreign-backed disinformation from influencing the American public. Issue One commends Congresswoman Spanberger for shepherding this much-needed legislation through the U.S. House and for calling on Congress to expeditiously address these threats.”
“It is time to update the Foreign Agents Registration Act to require disclosers of foreign agents operating online — to limit their ability to deceive and manipulate U.S. politics,” said Karen Kornbluh, Director, Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative, German Marshall Fund of the United States and former U.S. Ambassador to the OECD. “By requiring disclaimers for digital content and extending FARA to agents operating abroad, the FADE Act would empower Americans with the information they need to better protect themselves and democratic debate in the digital age — and I’m glad to see it pass in the House today thanks to the leadership of Rep. Spanberger.”
To ensure enforcement of new transparency measures, the FADE Act would specifically require DOJ to notify online platforms if a foreign agent does not meet disclaimer requirements for posts on their platforms, and in these cases, require the platform to remove the materials and use reasonable efforts to inform recipients of the materials that the information they saw was disseminated by a foreign agent. Additionally, the bipartisan bill would require DOJ to prepare a report to Congress on enforcement challenges.
Spanberger is a cosponsor of the For the People Act, which would take steps to bring greater transparency to campaign finance and spending, protect U.S. democracy from foreign interference, strengthen ethics standards for Members of Congress, and prohibit Members of Congress from serving on boards of for-profit entities — among other reforms.