Washington, DC – Today, on the eve of the midterm election, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) announced the Bots Research Act, which would establish a new task force at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine the impact of automated social media accounts, often referred to as “bots,” on public discourse and elections.
“Bot accounts can disseminate false information to alter public opinion with superhuman speed. There is clear evidence that bad actors used bots during the 2016 election with the sole purpose of destabilizing public discourse and undermining our elections,” said Congressman DeSaulnier.
Estimates suggest that roughly 48 million active users on Twitter are bots, and in November 2017, Facebook testified that upwards of 60 million automated accounts have been deployed on its platform. In the months since, Twitter has notified 1.4 million Americans that they interacted with or promoted Russian-linked activities during the 2016 Presidential election.
“Despite bots’ dangers, there is still widespread disagreement on how best to regulate these accounts. Before we can effectively police this realm, we need experts to come to the table and create guidelines that protect both cybersecurity and First Amendment rights, and that can keep pace with an ever-changing innovation sector. Without this key piece of the process, we cannot safeguard our democracy,” DeSaulnier concluded.
The task force—comprised of government, academic, and industry experts—will define what qualifies as a “bot,” identify how broadly these accounts are used, and recommend how best to combat their negative effects. The task force will report its findings to Congress and other relevant federal agencies to help inform future legislative action.
In February, Congressman DeSaulnier called on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee to convene a hearing on the sale, abuse, and possible influence social media bots could have had on the 2016 Presidential election.