Cicilline Bill Will Crack Down on Spread of Misinformation in 2020 Elections

May 21, 2020

Protecting Democracy from Disinformation Act will tightly restrict microtargeting, safeguard elections, prevent spread of disinformation


PAWTUCKET – U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01) announced today that he will introduce legislation that tightly restricts the use of personal, online consumer data that is often used to “microtarget” voters with misleading ads.


“Microtargeting is a threat to our democracy. Campaigns and foreign actors can use this technology to manipulate voters with high volumes of misleading information that is virtually impossible to keep track of,” said Cicilline. “The American people should choose their leaders, not sophisticated data firms or foreign adversaries that have their own agendas.”


Political campaigns are expected to spend $1 billion this election cycle to send millions of ads that are tailored to individual households and voters based on their personal data. The practice allows campaigns to target voters with misleading information based on psychographic profiles that reveal which messages will prove most effective in influencing their behavior.


The same tactics were exploited by Russian intelligence agencies that spent more than $100,000 on Facebook in 2016 to target American voters with misinformation on racial issues, gun violence, and other polarizing topics. While some online platforms have taken steps to ban the practice, Facebook continues to allow microtargeting as our country hurtles towards another presidential election in just six months.


The “Protecting Democracy from Disinformation Act” holds online platforms accountable for using microtargeting in online political ads and protects the right of the people to decide what is true. Specifically, the bill:


  • Restricts Microtargeting: Only allows advertisers and online platforms to use age, gender, and location when targeting political ads. 
  • Improves Transparency: Requires disclosure and reporting on who paid for an ad, how much it cost, whom an ad is aimed at, and who saw the ad.
  • Holds Online Platforms Accountable: Provides enforcement through the Federal Election Commission’s existing authority, a private right of action, and criminal penalties for online platforms and ad intermediaries that knowingly and willfully violate the Act.


Federal Election Commission (FEC) Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub has called for action against microtargeting practices, which are opposed by a strong majority of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, including 75% of Republicans.