Facebook is asking the Federal Election Commission to declare its sidebar ads exempt from campaign regulations that require disclosure of who paid for and authorized campaign ads, reports Talking Points Memo. Facebook is citing the FEC’s “small items” and “impractical” exceptions because its ads are too small to contain content and the disclosure. It is also noting an exemption Google obtained for search ads in October 2011.
Since Facebook ads are similarly small in size to Google search ads, and its argument that increasing ad size to accomodate disclosure would disrupt business and the user experience, we believe the FEC will grant Facebook an exemption.
The Federal Election Campaign Act and section 110.11 of the Commission’s regulations require a disclaimer of the political committee that purchased a campaign ad. Facebook’s main points from the 14-page letter it sent to the FEC asking for exemption for ads on the site are:
- The Commission’s has consistently interpreted campaign rules to permit the use of new technology
- Facebook’s ads are small enough that they should be given exemption under the “small items” and “impractical” because disclosure alone could take up the entirety or majority of a Facebook ad or Sponsored Story
- Facebook has purposefully opted for smaller ads as not to disrupt the social experience, meaning increasing their size to permit disclosure disrupt business and strategy
- 160-character text messages are exempt, Facebook ads also have a text limit of 160 characters
- Google search ads that are of a similar size to Facebook ads were made exempt
- Ads on bumper stickers, pens, buttons, skywriting and apparel are exempt because they are “small items” and disclosure there would be impractical
- The internet’s low cost of entry allows groups with “limited funds to maintain a voice on the internet”
- Exceptions of these sort allow politicians to reach young voters that can be difficult to contact through traditional means, helping stimulate and empower them in the political process
- Facebook is not requesting an exemption for all online ads
With precedent and general spirit of the law favoring exemption for Facebook ads, it would make sense for the FEC to approve the request. This would help Facebook continue to grow in importance to the political landscape without changing the unobtrusive nature of Facebook ads that preserve the user experience while funding the site.