Po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing should come with dis­clo­sure

The Citizens' Voice - - Editorial -

On­line ad­ver­tis­ing is as dis­tinct as broad­cast or print ad­ver­tis­ing. Just as me­dia com­pa­nies some­times have stum­bled in rec­og­niz­ing the dif­fer­ences and mak­ing the tran­si­tion from con­ven­tional to dig­i­tal de­liv­ery, Congress and reg­u­la­tors have failed to grasp the need for stan­dards cov­er­ing on­line po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing.

The need is ur­gent. Can­di­dates, par­ties, and any num­ber of other en­ti­ties spent more than $1.4 bil­lion on on­line ad­ver­tis­ing dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion cy­cle, and that num­ber is cer­tain to grow cy­cle af­ter cy­cle. As re­vealed dur­ing con­gres­sional hear­ings, a sin­gle Rus­sian “troll fac­tory” spent a min­i­mum of $2.3 mil­lion on so­cial me­dia ads and pro­pa­ganda last year at­tempt­ing to in­flu­ence the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Un­like po­lit­i­cal ads on TV and ra­dio or in print, those on­line are not re­quired to carry the “paid for” dis­clo­sure. The re­sult is that view­ers who en­counter the ads have no way to know their ori­gin, much less the abil­ity to vet the en­tity claim­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ad.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate those stan­dards on two dif­fer­ent tracks.

The Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion is con­sid­er­ing whether to up­date its rules by re­quir­ing the same “paid for” dis­clo­sure for all po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing, re­gard­less of the de­liv­ery plat­form.

And Demo­cratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota and Mark Warner of Vir­ginia, with Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, have in­tro­duced the Hon­est Ads Act re­quir­ing dis­clo­sure for on­line po­lit­i­cal ads as a mat­ter of law.

Es­pe­cially given the Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, but sim­ply to safe­guard the in­tegrity of the elec­toral process, the FEC and Congress should move as quickly as pos­si­ble to re­quire com­pre­hen­sive source dis­clo­sure for all po­lit­i­cal ads.

Un­like po­lit­i­cal ads on TV and ra­dio or in print, those on­line are not re­quired to carry the ‘paid for’ dis­clo­sure.

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