Final Maryland Twitter Rule Omits Archiving Requirement (Sort of)

shukoorahmedSocial media and online ad disclosure rules for Maryland political candidates officially passed July 20. The final law, however, omits an item in earlier versions that would have required candidates to maintain a detailed log of text messages and social media posts. Still, Maryland’s director of candidate and campaign finance suggested that candidates will need to store copies of all online communications anyway.

In June, the state’s Board of Elections unanimously passed rules that require political campaigns to include a disclosure statement on Facebook profile pages, Twitter account pages, and display ads, but not in Google AdWords and AdSense text units or Facebook’s display units. The statement, known as an authority line, features standard language indicating an association with an election campaign. The ruling was passed as an emergency regulation because 2010 election campaigns – some of which will use social media and online advertising – are kicking into gear.

But a final hurdle had yet to be crossed. Maryland State Delegate Mike Smigiel, who is running for re-election this year, called for a public hearing to discuss the rules before final approval. Concerned that the new social media rules could have detrimental results, Smigiel voted against them during the July 20 hearing. He was the lone “nay” in the 11-1 passage of the law. The rule’s proponents were backed by representatives of Google, Facebook, AOL, and Yahoo who were present when the rule was first passed as well as at the final July 20 vote.

The final law leaves out a passage that would have required candidate campaigns to keep a detailed archive of their online campaign materials, stored in paper or a non-rewriteable electronic format for at least a year. Now, according to Jared DeMarinis, Maryland’s director of candidate and campaign finance, candidates don’t have to keep a log of web communiques like Facebook posts or e-mails, but, in accordance with a pre-existing rule applying to traditional media, they will have to make sure those online communications are stored somewhere.

“There is [already] a provision that requires archiving campaign materials for one year,” said DeMarinis, suggesting campaigns “print out copies.”

The rules go into effect August 3. The goal of the legislation is to ensure that voters can tell the difference between an official campaign message and a phony one. One concern is that political campaigns could create false social media accounts associated with opponents and use them to convey damaging information about them. However, supporters of opponents could do the same and not be in violation of the law.

Shukoor Ahmed’s Twitter page does not include the authority line that will be required August 3 either. The Democratic primary candidate for Maryland’s District 23A House of Delegates seat (pictured above) is working on incorporating authority lines into his online communications, such as his YouTube videos. Yet, because he uses his personal Twitter account for his campaign communications, he’s not sure if or how he will incorporate the authority line.

“I’m not sure how the rules are going to play out,” Ahmed told ClickZ News. He believes most Maryland election candidates “were not engaged” in discussions about the rules. “Candidates and people like me will have difficulties to really put our arms around the social media part,” he said, noting concern that messages or videos he posts could be reposted by supporters without the authority line.

DeMarinis affirmed that anything posted by supporters will not require the authority line because their communications are considered free speech. He also noted that campaign videos posted online are required to include the authority line disclosure in the video content itself.

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