FARA on Facebook: Modernizing the Foreign Agents Registration Act to Address Propagandists on Social Media
45 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2019 Last revised: 4 Nov 2019
Date Written: July 8, 2019
In court filings in 2018, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III claimed that Russian social media disinformation actors during and after the 2016 election did not fulfill their obligation to register as agents of a foreign principal under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), the primary federal law concerning the political activities of foreign entities in the United States. As of this Article’s writing, no comprehensive study has been undertaken to evaluate how FARA’s statutory terms may apply to foreign propagandists who seek to influence U.S. political opinion primarily through disinformation campaigns on social media. This Article aims to fill this gap in the growing literature on this subject.
The Article begins by recounting the origins of FARA and telling the story of its uses up to the present day. The Article then describes the advent of disinformation on social media, focusing on the alleged Russian disinformation activity that began before the 2016 U.S. presidential election and that has continued in some shape or form until today. Next, the Article tackles some of the novel statutory interpretation issues and enforcement questions that arise when applying FARA’s terms to social media disinformation actors: Do the terms of the law retain significance when both the agent and the foreign principal are operating on foreign soil? What foreign propaganda materials should the Department of Justice require to be labeled under FARA, if any? What might a compliance regime look like in the context of foreign propagandists who reside outside of U.S. jurisdiction? The Article will attempt to put forth some possible answers to these questions, focusing on both the challenges that arise with registering disinformation actors on social media and the opportunities that may present themselves for tackling this threat.
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation