U.S. to Impose More Stern Regulations to Online Political Ads

The United States Federal Election Commission (FEC) moved forward to enact new rules for the internet, meaning political ad buyers on Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other online platforms could face stricter disclosure requirements, Bloomberg reported.

The new proposed regulations would update online disclosure requirements for the first time since 2006 and would require disclaimers identifying the sponsors of online advertisements.

The proposal would apply narrowly to a small category of political commercials and likely would leave largely untouched the types of ads that were linked to Russian operatives in the 2016 campaign. The new requirement may not be in place to affect the 2018 midterm elections, which are now underway.

Under current FEC rules, all political committees that pay to run ads on a website must report their spending in public filings and include disclaimers on the ads themselves that state the ads’ sponsors — just as they do for television ads.

However, as social media has played a growing role in campaigns, the commission has not drawn clear lines on what is required of small political ads online. As recently as 2011, Facebook argued to the FEC that such ads should not require the usual disclaimer that runs with political messages because it would be inconvenient and impractical.

The FEC is now seeking public input on two proposals that would require more disclosure.

Among the ideas in the draft rules: allowing small ads that run on sites such as Google or Facebook to include a small icon or truncated text that would provide more information when a user hovers over the ad or when the user clicks to a separate page listing the sponsor’s information.

The FEC’s move comes amid growing concerns that Russia, which used social media platforms to influence the 2016 elections, will attempt to do the same in 2018. A February memorandum from Vice Chair Ellen Weintraub accompanying a preliminary draft of the proposed regulations cited Russia as a reason for “swift action.” The effort is one of the few federal attempts to revise rules in the wake of election meddling by Russia and ahead of the midterm elections.

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