Translation Service: What IAB Is Really Saying About Regulating Online Political Ads

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Credit: Irina_Strelnikova/iStock. Composite by Ad Age.

The ad industry wants you to know that it's serious about fake news and foreign saboteurs messing with U.S. elections. Not on their watch!

On the other hand, it's not that excited about new regulations, either.

Look no further than the Interactive Advertising Bureau statement Wednesday expressing some interest in legislators' idea to make big digital platforms disclose who buys political ads and who sees them—a system closer to the rules that TV stations abide by.

Dave Grimaldi, exec VP of public policy at IAB, had some fairly non-committal words for Congress ahead of hearings that are set to focus on the role of the internet giants in illicit political advertising. Facebook and Twitter have acknowledged that foreign groups, identified as Russian, masqueraded on their sites to sow discord and influence the elections. The groups bought more than $100,000 in ads on Facebook alone, targeting them at susceptible people most likely to sway the election.

Here's what Grimaldi said in the statement, but also here's what he might be getting at in not so many words:

Online ads are the fuel that powers the unlimited expressions and presentations of free speech on the open internet.

Translation: I hate to sound like a broken record here, but any time the industry is challenged it is very important to remind all of you that the parts of the internet you like, including journalism, cost money. That money comes from ads. Regulate too heavily and know what? There will be no information online left except fake news. You don't want that. Do you?

Growing the vibrant media ecosystem, keeping the public trust, and enhancing the transparency of our industry – for online ads in particular – are goals we share with Senators Klobuchar and Warner.

Translation: Our esteemed senators from the great states of Minnesota and Virginia, we all want many of the same things. So you do not have to heavily regulate here. Seriously, let us handle this.

We look forward to working with them to advance this shared objective while maintaining and protecting the First Amendment rights political ads embody.

Translation: We're here and, even if we're not being entirely clear right now, we'll be sure to make our presence known before any new laws get passed. And never forget that free speech can be used in a lot of ways—including pushing back on election ad-regulation if we don't like it.

The IAB isn't the only interested party on this issue, of course, so watch this space for further translations of any other statements that may come.

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