Facebook Seeks Flexible Rules For Political Ad Disclaimers

Facebook is urging the Federal Election Commission to craft flexible rules for political ad disclaimers, arguing that advertisers should be able to make disclaimers via an icon or other "obvious indicator."

"An approach that prescribes both precisely what information must be disclosed and the transparency goals that must be achieved, but that maintains flexibility as to the specific interface elements by which that information is displayed, would ensure that the Commission’s rules will be relevant and viable for the technology that exists today and the technology that will be developed in the future," Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch says in comments filed Monday with the FEC.

The comments come in response to an FEC request for comments regarding online political ads. The agency recently opened a proceeding to explore whether online political ads must carry the same disclaimers as TV and newspaper ads, which must state the identity of whoever paid for the ad.

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In 2011, Facebook argued to the FEC that the "character-limited ads" on the social-networking service were so physically small that disclaimers should not be required.

Stretch says Facebook ads have evolved since 2011. The company still offers small ads, as well as formats. "Ads can now include videos, can include scrolling carousels of images, and can even cover the entire screen of a mobile device," he writes.

"Allowing ads to include an icon or other obvious indicator that more information about an ad is available via quick navigation (like a single click) would give clear guidance on how to include disclaimers in new technologies as they are developed," Stretch says in his letter.

Facebook also says the FEC's definition of "ad" should be broadened to include any "digital or online communications that mention federal candidates" that are run 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.

Currently, disclaimer rules apply to "electioneering" ads that explicitly ask people to vote for or against a particular candidate or to donate money.

Facebook's filing comes two weeks after the company told lawmakers that material created by Russian agents, including at least 3,000 ads, may have reached 146 million users -- 126 million on Facebook and an additional 20 million on Instagram.

Some of the ads that ran before the election clearly favored President Donald Trump. One on Facebook called Hillary Clinton "a Satan," while another blamed Clinton and former President Barack Obama for illegal border crossings by "rapists, drug dealers, human traffickers, and others."

Facebook also says it plans to require more information from advertisers who run ads related to federal elections, and will create a searchable archive of those ads.

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