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article imageOp-Ed: Major deal —Google rewriting the rules for political ads, forever

By Paul Wallis     May 5, 2018 in Politics
Mountain View - If GOP Washington is still in denial about Russian political interference, the commercial market isn’t. Google has just added its very considerable weight in to disclosure of buyers of political ads, and this new approach will work.
The new Google move comes in the midst of various GOP efforts to bury the Russian controversy. The big difference is that nothing in the market moves without Google, so disclosure is a very big move indeed.
It’s an interesting reflection on the realities of the market that what’s credible to the market is far more effective than what’s credible to political parties. The Russian interference saga is no joke. These allegations, which are arguably the most humiliating experience ever to happen to American democracy, haven’t gone down at all well to the unwilling media which were caught up in it.
Maybe Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al aren’t all that keen on being party to a perversion of the democratic process. In Google’s case, this translates in to a “due diligence” exercise with a few politely phrased brass knuckles:
Google will:
1. Require proof of identity as a US citizen.
2. Require display of the names of parties paying for the ads.
3. Release a public report identifying who’s paying for political ads, and how much.
4. Release a “library” of information for research purposes.
This is pretty much in lock step with Facebook’s similar initiative. It’s going to be interesting in multiple ways, adding a new dimension of factualism to the rotting, talking maggot infested corpse of American democracy. The library, in fact, is a major deal in itself, documenting the ad process in a level of depth never previously attempted.
Political ads and donors can be very politically sensitive. They can also be dangerous. Anything which equates to “ownership” of political content, which can be extremely abusive, and perhaps actionable or an excuse to chuck a few bodies overboard, may be hot property.
That situation, however, also comes with some existential baggage, and it’s not hand luggage. In a political environment in which nobody tries too hard to be responsible for anything, “liability” is likely to be a very hard target. “Accountability” is also a swear word in the terminally irresponsible US political lexicon.
The Google idea may be all fair and above board, but fair and above board are also the exact antithesis of the current political environment. On the other hand, it’s a fait accompli – Google has the right to dictate terms of service, and they’re the global information superpower. What Google says goes, to that extent.
How will the saints of United States political advertising manage this critical mass event? Hard to tell. They may not even have recognized that this is going to directly impact the 2018 mid-terms and the 2020 election.
Given that money, rather than ideology, is the real driving force behind political activities in the US, the likely response will be quite basic – “Whatever - Just run the ads and let the political entities take the flak. We’re just advertisers.”
That rather bland position, bizarre as it may seem, given the hellish 2016 election hate festival, IS a legal defense, of sorts. They get paid to run and distribute advertising, not to take responsibility for it.
Google has also started a program to help protect the democratic process by joining a cyber security project called the Digital Democracy Project with Harvard Kennedy School and the Belfer Center to train political campaigns in data security. A set of tools called Protect Your Election is also available.
The next question is how will the staggeringly gutless, spineless American political machinery react to this new culture? How many lobbyists and Super PACs are likely to embrace what is basically a public audit of who’s doing what?
Facts haven’t been very popular in American politics recently. They seem to be a problem. Adding facts, like who says what, when, and where, in real time, may be equally unpopular. A culture which can deny the existence of the weather may not be ready for such revelations. Just wait for the bleating and disclaimers to come oozing out of the sewer.
Just one more thing, but it’s important – The Google ad data will be effectively unkillable. It’ll be there, fully accessible to everyone, forever. It’s one of the few cases of factual history creating a self-defense mechanism while it’s happening, and it will work, because there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. Let’s see what happens. This is a kick in the teeth for a culture which thoroughly deserves it.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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