Political tweets and Facebook status updates should be held to the same standards as paid advertising that voters see on television, radio or in Californian's mailboxes, says California's campaign watchdog agency, The Fair Political Practices Commission, in a report being released Monday. The Fair Political Practices Commission is considering how to regulate "new forms of political activity" on Facebook or in a text message.
"It's become necessary as politicians in California and elsewhere announce their candidacies and major campaign policies through Twitter, YouTube and a host of social networking sites," said FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur. He also added that California's 36-year-old Political Reform Act needs a modern-day re-write to keep up with the times.
"Our goal here is to meet the new challenges of 21st Century technology," Schnur said. "There's no way that the authors of the act could have anticipated that these of types of communicating a campaign message would ever exist."
The report reportedly outlines possible hurdles to regulating such online content, like how one would include full disclosure of what group or individual is behind a political message. The changes the commission makes to state law would have to give regulators the flexibility to respond to swiftly evolving technologies, the report says.
The commission will tackle the contents of the report at its Aug. 12 meeting. Even if the five-member commission orders its staff to propose new regulations or legal changes to address new types of political messages, it will probably be months before they take effect.
The report does draw the line when it comes to the right of regular citezens to tweet or use Facebook to talk about politics or politicians:
"People tweeting about someone is typically not something you would regulate," said Barbara O'Connor, professor emeritus of communications and the former director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. "When it becomes an ad, it's a different story. When it becomes an ad it really is a replacement for a 30-second spot for a new generation."
Like California's current regulations, federal campaign watchdogs really only regulate paid political advertising, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.