FPPC Wants to Regulate Social Media

To be fair, I think few are surprised by the discussion about regulating social media.  But, before we get too deep into it, at this point we are talking about the tools that are used by candidates and campaigns, rather than ordinary citizens (or not so ordinary bloggers).  

Politicians’ tweets and status updates should be held to the same standards as paid advertising that voters see on television, hear on radio or find in their mailboxes, California’s campaign watchdog agency says in a report being released Monday. …

{FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur} said California’s 36-year-old Political Reform Act needs rewriting to keep up with the times.

“Our goal here is to meet the new challenges of 21st Century technology,” Schnur said. “There’s no way that the authors of the act could have anticipated that these of types of communicating a campaign message would ever exist.” (SF Chronicle)

In the changing new media landscape, we do need new rules for disclosure.  When campaigns are using these new tools, it is often difficult to know what rules apply at any given time apply.  The default example here is of course the 140 character tweet, where disclosure would look crazy.  But, should the campaign’s twitter account page carry some disclosure? That seems a legitimate question.

But there are other examples. Take the problem of GoogleAds.  If you go searching for any marginally controversial political subject, you’ll find some ads on both sides.  Some will let you know by the URL or other device where they are coming from. Others will not be as clear, say an organization highlighting a news article that favors a candidate.  Do we require that ad to disclose its funding?  The advertiser is dealing with very limited space, and most disclosures would cannibalize the whole ad. So where is the line? How do we allow these tools to be used without confusing voters and letting spending get out of control?

These are not simple questions, and no simple answers will be arriving. Perhaps the FPPC works with some of these companies to facilitate disclosure, but the important point that should be taken away from this discussion is that the FPPC needs to get more nimble.  

In 2006, Twitter was barely a concept. And who knows what will be all the rage in 2014. But, we can’t keep having this conversation every year.  Let’s ensure disclosure, but be very careful to avoid crushing the tools.

2 thoughts on “FPPC Wants to Regulate Social Media”

  1. Its requirements for physical posting of agendas and its definition of public are somewhat at odds with the internet, actually creating some obstacles to openness. For example, because of the need to agendize and post and give notice of every physical location, it makes tele- and video- conferencing of public meetings harder; when written, the idea that half the populace would have the equipment to participate remotely was ridiculous.

  2. The diverse ways in which these things are being regulated is making online ad sales a bit more complex. Florida basically deregulated the market, whereas Maryland at one point was going to require candidates to “store” twitter and facebook updates for up to one year AFTER the campaign.

    In many cases the people doing the regulating dont’ really understand what is online advertising or social media, and that usually ends up with either a deadlock on regulations or the loosest ones possible.

    The other thing is that what is and isn’t an ad  and what is simply people expressing themselves online. Even people who are working for campaigns have the right to talk about their work both on an official site, and a blog of their own that’s separate just as they could talk about the campaign in a campaign office or at their home or on the street.

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