SIIA Advises Cautious Approach to Online Political Ad Disclosures

The Software & Information Industry Association says it supports the Federal Election Commission's "exploration" of internet communications disclaimers, but said the FEC should take a "cautious" and "flexible" approach to any possible new regulations.

SIIA represents almost 700 software developers and digital content companies.

The FEC is considering expanding and clarifying disclosure requirements for online political ads. The rulemaking dates from several years back, but gained new impetus from recent events.

The FEC reopened the comment period in September after it was revealed that Russia bought ads on social media platforms to try and meddle with the 2016 presidential election, ads that were under the radar because they lacked such disclosures.

Comments on that proceeding were due Monday (Nov. 13) after the Nov. 8 deadline was extended due to what the FEC indicated was technical difficulties.

SIIA is in no hurry for the FEC to impose new regulations. "SIIA is in favor of the Commission moving to proceed to a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would provide the public and the industry with an opportunity to evaluate the practicality of any proposed new rules, and to compare the alternatives in terms of their impact on the role of digital advertising and consumers, and the benefits to transparency and accountability," it told the FEC.

“SIIA is very concerned about the threat of foreign actors using social media platforms to potentially influence U.S. political elections, and we welcome the Commission’s exploration of this issue," said SIIA SVP Mark MacCarthy. "We also urge the Commission to be mindful of the risk to the free speech rights of individual Americans, and to avoid proposing a rigid uniform set of requirements that lacks the necessary flexibility for the diverse digital advertising environment.

Related: FEC Extends Comment Deadline on Online Disclosures

While many are calling for online political ads to be treated similarly to TV and cable and radio political ads, but SIIA says there are significant differences.

"This environment is significantly more complicated than analog media, consisting of an environment where different entities and various technologies work together to create, sell, distribute and measure digital advertising," it said.

"Therefore, digital content providers and ad networks comprise a substantial portion of ad placements and consumer views and are likely to be affected by any new disclosure requirements as well."

And when it comes to mobile, SIIA says that adds an additional level of complexity and challenges with respect to disclosures "given the range of format and limited screen space."

SIIA talked up self-regulation, saying that in the wake of the revelations about foreign meddling (that would be Russia), "many of the leading U.S. internet platforms have introduced measures such as requiring additional detail from political advertisers; including identity verification; including the total amounts spent; reporting on the number of impressions delivered; providing additional information about advertising audiences; and creating a searchable archive."

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.