As social media becomes more integrated into political campaigns, the question of rules and regulations of social networks for campaign usage comes to the forefront. Maryland is the first state to be proactive in addressing this question.
On June 3 the Maryland State Board of Elections voted in favor of adopting the rules that would regulate candidates’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. These rules will require that candidates add disclosure statements to their social networks (blogs, Facebook, Twitter and online advertising greater than 200 characters). The disclosure will be the same that is required on printed material: “Paid for by …, Treasurer…”
In the case of Twitter, where there is not enough room for a full disclosure, the Twitter account will have to be registered with the state board, which will post a list of official campaign Twitter accounts. Non-compliance would result in a misdemeanor conviction punishable with a fine or imprisonment.
Currently Maryland is the only state to adopt social networking regulations, though other states, such as California, Wisconsin and Florida, are already following in Maryland’s lead and are working towards establishing their own regulations.
The goal of the regulations is to let voters know what are official candidate communications. If the candidates’ social networking sites are registered, then it will allow a voter to know what is legitimate and what is not.
“I think it brings clarity to the process,” said Jared DeMarinis, director of the Maryland State Board of Elections. “The public can get an idea of what is an official communication without worrying about the source of the posting. They can make informed decisions at the ballot box.”
This will also increase the exposure for a candidate’s social media profiles. Voters will be able to go to an official list to easily find the links to their candidates’ Twitter and Facebook pages. As far as social media networking is concerned, this will only increase traffic and credibility, two things that all social media profiles strive to establish.
Establishing validity and credibility is a goal for all public social media profiles. Though Facebook has rules about impersonating people, and will disable an account if it discovers fraud, it does not mean that impostors do not sneak through the cracks. The problem is that fan pages are outside Facebook’s reach and can be created by anyone.
Though it is frowned upon, social network impersonation has become a strategy for the spread of misinformation. The regulations and disclaimer would prevent impostor pages from achieving authority.
There are those who argue that forcing candidates to register the sites and place disclaimers infringes on First Amendment rights. However, the regulations are not being put in place to regulate what is being said, just its authenticity. Social networking has become the next power tool in the campaign toolbox. It is a constant and active connection to voters that is cheaper, greener and has a wider reach than all previous GOTV activities. Social media also creates a level of transparency that has been previously unattainable.
The Maryland rule sheds light on the government’s acknowledgement of the importance of social media and political campaigning. Social networking has become integral to political campaigns. The authenticating of a campaigns social network will only contribute to the growing strength of social media as a source for reliable political information.
Will New Mexico be next?
After Maryland voted on the rule, Facebook Washington DC said, “Facebook is pleased that the Maryland Board of Elections is now leading the way for the rest of the country in making it clear to campaigns how they can legally use social media to reach voters.”
With New Mexico’s politicians embracing social media for campaigns, and an increase demand in transparency in politics, will we be the next on board for regulating social networking?