Twitter, Facebook Face Political Regulation

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Get ready to regulate!
Partisan political bloggers wouldn't have to disclose being compensated by political campaigns under proposed regulations

"I Gavin Newsom; I Ndorsed this Tweet."

The above message may be coming to your computer or phone before too long, if the state's top political watchdog has its way. The Fair Political Practices Commission released a report Monday recommending that political Facebook pages, Tweets, e-mails and other forms of paperless communication be regulated just as stringently as TV or radio commercials, or mailers overflowing our letter boxes.

The heart of the 20-page report -- excitingly named "Internet Political Activity and the Political Reform Act," and penned by the even more excitingly named "Subcommittee on Internet Political Activity" -- may be this: "If the Political Reform Act and regulations require disclosure on paid political communications that are printed or broadcast, then similar paid communications that are disseminated over the Internet should be accompanied by similar disclosures." Much of this will be done by updating the language of the law to go beyond merely mentioning "print and broadcast." Astoundingly, that hasn't happened yet.

As Example No. 1 of how the Internet is a mysterious place where current campaign law is often toothless, the report lists a series of e-mails lambasting an Attorney General candidate sent by "The Hardy Boys" and "Nancy Drew." Voters receiving the e-mails had no idea who sent them. (An aside: This was incredibly clever for whomever sent those e-mails, as the ostensible authors of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books -- Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene -- were actually pseudonyms for whole factories of anonymous writers. Very clever indeed).

What does this mean for political campaigns -- and you? Well, first off , it means that you'll likely be seeing more official imprimaturs of candidates and committees on the Tweets and e-mails you receive -- as well as disclosures from Tweeting, Facebooking, e-mailing political operatives. Since said disclosures are often longer than a Tweet itself, the FPPC suggests some manner of graphic or link to a site with a full message. "The need to accommodate communication in limited spaces with limited text must be balanced against the right of the public to be informed."

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Audrey Fukuman
Plenty of fail to go around.
This will definitely play out on Facebook -- with half a billion users, no serious candidate can't have a presence on the site. Soon, however, candidates, committees and shadowy operatives on Facebook may have to  disclose on their "bio page" exactly who the hell is paying for the content found there. The Facebook "user name" must "adequately identify the name of the candidate or the committee," and posts made on the site may be required to link to an external site that gives all the necessary information about who is behind said Facebook page.

Finally, folks ruminating on the Web about political matters are not going to be getting phone calls from regulatory agencies demanding they cease and desist -- even if they're paid political hacks. "We recommend that bloggers not be required ... to disclose in their blogs that they are paid by a political campaign," the report states. This is unnecessary because "payments by candidates and campaigns to bloggers or others communicating on the Internet will be revealed by expenditure reports filed by campaigns."

Revealed to whom? The 12 people who unearth those reports?

By the way, the FPPC believes disclosing that you're a partisan hack being compensated by the folks you're writing about or the opponents of the folks you're trashing is "good practice for bloggers" and "we applaud that practice." Well, that ought to stop dirty Internet pool by paid bloggers right away.

Glad to see our regulators understand how the Web works. We applaud them.

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