Palo Alto-based social networking giant Facebook is seeking an exemption to rules that would require political advertisements on the site to disclose the source of their funds, according to a letter submitted to federal regulators by company attorneys.
The letter, first obtained by Talking Points Memo, argues that limits on the size of Facebook ads makes including required disclosure language impractical. Federal campaign regulations require political advertising to disclose who paid for and authorized it, but the Federal Election Commission has allowed exceptions in certain cases.
Facebook is seeking an exemption similar to those that apply to bumper stickers, text messages, buttons and other small items. Ads on the social networking site are limited to a 25-character title and 135 characters of body text, according to the memo. A disclaimer (think “Paid for by Obama for America”) can take up a significant amount of that space.
The debate over disclosure in small online advertisements, such as search ads and tweets, has been a hot topic over the last year.
After a months-long debate last fall, the elections commission ruled that the ubiquitous short text ads served by Google should be exempt from disclosure because their length would make including disclaimers impractical.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission, which regulates political advertising in California, came down on the side of more stringent disclosure in a set of recommendations released last fall.
“Voters need to know who is behind paid political communications they receive through e-mail or over the Internet to cast informed votes,” FPPC Commissioner Elizabeth Garrett told USC News at the time. “Full and truthful disclosure is just as vital in the digital world as it is in the traditional environment of political advertisements.”
In situations with limited space like Facebook and Google ads, the FPPC recommended that the required disclosures appear on any page linked to from the ad. Regulators in Maryland took a similar approach, establishing a cutoff of 200 characters for disclosure in the ad itself and requiring disclaimers to appear on any linked pages.
The FPPC’s recommendations drew a stark distinction between paid advertising disseminated by political committees, which it said should face disclosure regulations, and grassroots political activity conducted through social media, which it argued should continue freely.