New rules on political ads won't solve social media's "biggest problem"

Lawmakers are taking steps to require Facebook and other online platforms to disclose who buys political ads on their sites. Facebook recently revealed Russian agents bought roughly 3,000 ads for about $100,000 during the 2016 campaign and Google sold nearly $5,000 in ads to Russian operatives. Federal law bars foreign groups from spending money to influence American elections.

A new bipartisan bill called the Honest Ads Act would make online advertisers disclose who paid for ads, just as TV and radio advertisers do.

CBS News contributor and editor-in-chief of Wired magazine Nicholas Thompson joined "CBS This Morning" to discuss the proposed legislation and what he sees as a bigger problem facing social media platforms.

"This is a very good bill, it will make a difference, it does close a loophole – absolutely. Internet ads should be regulated just like other political ads. But it's a small step. This isn't how Russia influenced the election on social media. There are much bigger problems on social media, but still this should be done," Thompson said.

Even so, Thompson said it's possible we'll see some pushback from ad networks, tech companies and some Republicans who are generally against campaign finance reform.

"It's possible that the tech companies will oppose it, though it might be ultimately good for them to have a little more regulation. Facebook was obviously hurt massively by what happened in the last election," he said.

According to Thompson, the number of people "reached" by Russian political ads online is not only small, but potentially less significant than the word implies.

"To 'reach' someone just means you scroll through, it doesn't mean you really reach them in any substantial way," he said. 

"What's really problematic are the fake accounts that the Russian operatives set up. Those were massively more influential and they're harder to find and harder to define, but that's the biggest problem. That's the thing that had more influence."  

Thompson also said that Silicon Valley's recent negative publicity could get worse if they come out against the Honest Ads Act.

"Silicon Valley has a massive PR problem, a growing PR problem and one that they're really struggling with right now. How they respond to this bill will play into that. If they come out hard against it, you can imagine people getting even angrier," he said.  

In a statement to CBS News, Facebook said, "We stand with lawmakers in their effort to achieve transparency in political advertising. We have already announced the steps Facebook will take on our own and we look forward to continuing the conversation with lawmakers as we work toward a legislative solution."