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Mark Warner: Tech companies self-regulating 'just doesn't cut it'

Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), a former technology investor and entrepreneur, doesn’t buy the argument that companies like Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), and Google (GOOGL) can regulate themselves.

“The notion [tech companies will] be able to self-regulate themselves just doesn’t cut it,” Warner told Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief Andy Serwer at the All Markets Summit: America’s Financial Future in Washington, D.C.

To illustrate this point about the failed premise of self-regulation, Warner referred to a report that Vice News said it posed as all 100 U.S. senators to run ads on Facebook ahead of the midterms and the social media network approved all of them.

As a group, the tech giants, especially Facebook, have come under scrutiny following the dissemination of misinformation by fake accounts with the goal of influencing the 2016 election.

“[They] were frankly irresponsible in terms of being on guard. And for eight months, almost nine months, after the 2016 election, Facebook, in particular, denied any culpability at all. That’s changed,” Warner said.

Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) speaks to Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief Andy Serwer about how to regulate the tech giants.

Warner made a case that there will be a need for some “rules of the road.”

Last year, Warner along with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and the late Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced what “should have been the lowest hanging fruit” in what they called the “Honest Ads Act.” Warner explained that the premise of the legislation is if you run political ads on the internet you should have the same disclosures as required on TV and radio.

“Because the White House and Senator McConnell don’t want to do anything in campaign finance, this legislation is not passed,” he added.

He noted that Facebook and Twitter have made some progress for ads supporting individual candidates, but ads around issues are “more of a gray area.”

3 policy prescriptions for big tech

A former technology entrepreneur and investor, Warner has laid out three policy buckets for the government to think about policy prescriptions.

The first bucket is privacy. In other words, you should know the amount of information collected about you and have a right to be forgotten. Warner said that Europe’s GDPR is a “fairly blunt instrument” and “fairly clunky,” but some of the sub-proposals could be useful in the U.S.

“The second bucket and one that is less intrusive, but I think would be helpful as more and more people question what they’re reading on the internet is around identity validation,” Warner said.

Warner said that he’s found agreement among senators from both parties that you should have a right to know when you’re being contacted and whether that contact is from a human being versus a bot or automated account. Another level that’s harder would be where the post is originating.

“Somebody says they’re ‘Bill posting from Washington, D.C.’ but the post is originating out of St. Petersburg, Russia. That could be a geocode that would post and say that person says they’re from here, but it’s being posted from abroad. Make your own judgment.”

The third bucket is identity validation.

“People love the internet with this kind of unfettered anonymity, but when that anonymity allows you to promote hate speech or allows you to frankly manipulate the web, there ought to be a discussion here around validation.”

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.