FEC Commissioner Wants New Social Media Input on Disclosures

Federal Election Commission member Ellen Weintraub has called on Facebook, Google and Twitter to weigh in on expanding disclosure requirements for political ads online.

The issue of the differential treatment of disclosures on traditional broadcast and cable ads and online ads has come to a head over deceptive Russian-bought ads on those social media platforms that were meant to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

In the wake of Hill hearings and news media coverage, the FCC sought additional comment in its still-open rulemaking on internet communications disclaimers, which is due Nov. 9.

In a letter she posted on Twitter dated Nov. 6, Weintraub asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to contribute written comments by the deadline, pointing out her staff had made the request earlier and renewing the request. She sent similar letters to the other two companies.

At press time, the FEC had not published any of the new comments, and won't until Nov. 9.

Tom Moore, chief counsel to the commissioner, told B&C/Multichannel News that she has not gotten responses to the letters but that Twitter has indicated to her it would file a comment by the deadline and, according to Bloomberg, Facebook has said it will as well.

In its initial comments on the rulemaking--before the Russian meddling issue surfaced--Facebook had said it supported harmonizing the treatment of political ads across platforms, but while maintaining the "restrained regulatory approach" that has allowed political ads to continue to use social nets for cost-effective ad buys.

Representatives of all three social media giants were grilled on the issue during a series of Hill hearings two weeks ago and all supported the spirit of enhanced disclosure and platform neutrality, but stopped short of outright endorsing a bill that would mandate that.

Elsewhere on the disclosure front, various groups say they have collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition urging the FEC to wrap up the rulemaking with disclaimer rules for online political ads. The groups back that bill--the Honest Ads Act, which was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is scheduled to be at a Hill press conference Thursday (Nov. 9) where the groups--Common Cause, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, People for the American Way and others--will talk about the importance of disclosures before delivering the petitions to the FEC.

Also scheduled to be at the event are Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.