The companies acted under threats of federal regulation after reports that Russian operatives bought politically divisive social media ads under fake names.

A push this year by tech companies to open a window on the political ads that they sell has failed to satisfy lawmakers and researchers who worry that shadowy groups could still use the services to manipulate voters before an election.

Facebook, Google and Twitter all launched searchable databases this year that allow people to see details of election-related advertisements that run on theirs sites. People who visit the databases online can see videos and images from the ads, as well as spending data and, in theory, who is behind each of the ads. But huge loopholes in the databases remain, lawmakers and researchers say.

Travis Ridout.
Travis Ridout

Travis Ridout, a Washington State University political science professor, said the tech companies’ databases are better than what existed before, “which was nothing,” he said. But their efforts aren’t everything that advocates for transparency hoped for.

“They sort of have a bargain right now: that government will not intervene if the companies take some responsibility,” Ridout said. Whether that bargain continues, he said, “I’m not certain.”

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