Federal Election Commission proposal toughens political ads disclosure rules

The nature of political advertising is manipulation and deception. This was taken to extremes in 2016 as fake news and ads from outside actors and extremist groups sought to manipulate public opinion and influence the presidential election.

Now, with Russia expected to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is considering additional rules and disclosure requirements for online political ads. According to a Bloomberg report:

The proposal, written by Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat and vice chair of the commission, would require online advertisements to carry the same disclaimers from their sponsors as do radio, television and print ads. The commission will consider the framework, known as a notice of proposed rule making, at its next public hearing on March 8.

There are also bills before Congress that would do much the same thing and require the platforms (Facebook, Google) to report on the sources of political advertising, their spending levels and their intended targets.

The proposed FEC rule would require all text and display advertising to include the name of the sponsor in the ad (not merely a link) “in letters of sufficient size to be clearly readable.” This provision might be a source of objections from Google or Facebook.

Audio ads in music streaming services would require oral disclaimers similar to political ads on terrestrial radio. According to Bloomberg, the proposed rule also seeks to anticipate political advertising in new technologies (e.g., augmented or virtual reality).

It’s not clear whether Google, Facebook, Twitter or others will try to block the proposal. It’s also not clear whether Republican members of the FEC will support it in this toxic political atmosphere. However, as it reads, this merely brings the disclosure requirements that currently apply to traditional media to online media.

For the good and integrity of the electoral process and for the good of their reputations, the platforms should aggressively embrace the concept, if not the specific proposal.

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