With the backdrop of November midterm elections and social media executives testifying before Congress about foreign efforts to interfere in U.S. democracy, California lawmakers are working on finalizing a new bill aimed to promote transparency and accountability around political advertisements on social media platforms. The “Social Media DISCLOSE Act” (the “Act”) seeks to build upon the existing California DISCLOSE Act, established in 2017, by extending political advertisement disclosure requirements to online social media platforms.
The Act applies to “online platforms”, which is defined to include websites and digital apps that sell advertising directly to advertisers (but not websites and apps that only display ads sold through another platform). Assuming the Act is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, social media online platforms that display political advertisements will be required to disclose information regarding the funders of those ads and to keep a database of the political ads they run, starting as of January 1, 2020, when the law takes effect.
Under the Act, when social media platforms display a political ad on their platform, they must either display (a) the text “paid for by” or “ad paid for by” followed by the disclosure name provided by the committee purchasing the ad, or (b) a hyperlink, icon, button or tab with the text “who paid for this ad?”, “paid for by” or “ad paid for by” that links to the profile or page of the committee that paid for the ad, or to another website containing information regarding the sponsor of the ad.
The Act also requires social media platforms to maintain a record of any political advertisement disseminated on the platform by a committee that purchased $500 or more in advertisements on that platform during the previous 12 months, and to make these records publicly available online. These records must include: (1) a digital copy of the advertisement; (2) the approximate number of impressions generated from the advertisement, and the date and time that the advertisement was first displayed and last displayed; (3) information regarding the range charged or the total amount spent on the advertisement; (4) the name of the candidate to which the advertisement refers and the office to which the candidate is seeking election, as applicable, or number or letter of the ballot measure and the jurisdiction to which the advertisement refers; and (5) the name and identification number of the committee that paid for the advertisement. Platforms are required to make this information publicly available as soon as practicable and to retain it for at least four years.
The law also imposes certain disclosure obligations on the political committees that pay for the ads, subject to certain exceptions. Upon requesting ad placement on the platform, the committee must notify the platform that the ad is a political ad as defined under the Act. They must also provide the platform with their name and the name of the candidate and the office to which the candidate is seeking election. Alternatively, if the advertisement is in support of a ballot measure, the committee must disclose to the platform the number or letter of the ballot measure.