Maryland Politician on Twitter Rules: Not So Fast

Maryland State Delegate Mike Smigiel appreciates digital communications for their interactive and inexpensive qualities, but he’s worried that new social media and online ad rules passed as emergency regulations could have detrimental results. The rules already would be in place had Smigiel not called for a public hearing to discuss them later this month.

“These regulations went through without any real public input,” Smigiel told ClickZ News. The rules were passed as emergency regulations by the State Board of Elections.

“I’m not sure what the purpose was of the new regulations or what their effect is going to be,” said Smigiel. “I wantmaryland-mike-smigiel to make sure we don’t have any unintended consequences…. I want to make sure that it’s not an infringement on our freedoms or [doesn’t set] a precedent for something else.”

Maryland’s Board of Elections in June 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 disclosure would feature standard language that denotes an association with their campaigns. Potentially more cumbersome for some small campaigns, the rules also call for campaigns to maintain an archive of all digital ads, text messages, and even Twitter and Facebook posts.

According to Maryland State Board of Elections staff, representatives of Google, Facebook, AOL, and Yahoo were all present at the board meeting during which the measure was passed, and all were in favor of the regulation. The Center for Competitive Politics was the only organization to formally oppose the regulation.

Both Smigiel and Susan McNamee, counsel to Maryland’s Joint Committee on Administrative, suggested that 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. Board of Elections staff told ClickZ recently that the rules are intended 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.

Smigiel, who is running for re-election this year, said he does not think Maryland citizens are “in danger” if the rules do not go into effect right away; he argued that people not affiliated with candidates or their committees could just as easily create false accounts, but the rules do nothing to prevent that from happening.

He does not necessarily oppose the rules, though Smigiel indicated concern that small-budget campaigns – those that may rely on free and inexpensive social media efforts – could be unfairly hampered by them. “It appears that too often efforts are made to curtail the use of media that is less expensive and easier to apply,” he said.

In Maryland, Democrats dominate both houses of the state’s General Assembly. Smigiel, a Republican, has over 2,400 friends on Facebook and also has a website and Twitter account. He said he wants to post the rules in a form suitable for public viewing to Facebook in the hopes of fostering a discussion about them and spurring interest in attending the hearing, set for July 20.

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