Congressman DeSaulnier Introduces Legislation to Study the Impact of Social Media Bots on Elections and Public Discourse

May 22, 2019
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) announced the introduction of the Bots Research Act (H.R. 2860), a bill to establish a task force of experts at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine the impact of automated social media accounts, commonly known as “bots,” on elections and public discourse. The introduction coincides with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s National Security Subcommittee hearing on “Securing U.S. Election Infrastructure and Protecting Political Discourse.”

“We now know that bot accounts were actively used by foreign agents as part of what the Mueller Report characterized as ‘sweeping and systematic’ interference in the 2016 presidential election. These accounts pose a clear danger as weapons that spread false information and manipulate public opinion and threaten free elections and the democratic process,” said Congressman DeSaulnier

Estimates suggest that in 2017 around 48 million bot accounts existed across Twitter, making it increasingly likely that most Americans have interacted with at least one of these accounts while using the platform.

“Despite the clear dangers posed by these accounts, we must protect the free speech rights of legitimate actors while simultaneously halting bad-faith actors. That is why it is critical that we bring the best and brightest minds together to figure out exactly how bots were used, and how to counter the exponential impact of these accounts in the future,” concluded DeSaulnier.

The proposed task force, which would be 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 influence and effects. The task force will report its findings to Congress and relevant agencies to help inform pro-active legislation. A previous version of this bill (H.R. 7117) was introduced in the 115th Congress.