Friday, July 23, 2010

Maryland's Social Media Election Regulations Are a Model For the Rest of the U.S.

This past week, the state of Maryland passed social media election regulations that require candidates for state political office to include an authority line on all of their campaign social media accounts. Maryland is technically the second state in the country, behind Florida, to officially address social media usage in state political campaigns. However, Maryland is the first state to proactively create social media regulations before its election board was forced to do so because of litigation.

Social media election regulations are needed so that voters are able to determine whether a social media account they are viewing is part of a candidate's official campaign. Of the most widely utilized social media platforms, only Twitter has a process that officially verifies accounts. Therefore, it is difficult to determine whether the page you are viewing is created by or on behalf of a person, an entity, or an activity.

Under Maryland's new regulations, social media is to be treated in the same manner as other campaign material and communication. From a conceptual standpoint, social media is an online extension of a candidate's television, radio, or print advertisements. Due to the drastic increase of social media usage since the last election cycle, it was time for political social media campaign utilization to be regulated. It is only a matter of time before the Federal Election Commission decides to regulate social media for federal campaigns.

I worked with Maryland's State Board of Elections ("Board") to draft Maryland's new social media election regulations. In June, the Board voted 4-0 to pass the regulations and earlier this week a committee of state lawmakers voted 11-1 to implement the new regulations for this upcoming election cycle. The regulations received bipartisan political support and they were also supported by the social media business community. The almost unanimous support from all of these stakeholders apparently means that I was successful at working with the Board to draft fair and balanced rules.

The regulations are not onerous on candidates and are inexpensive to follow. Also, they do not have any additional requirements that go beyond what is required for other forms of campaign media. The only drawback with the new regulations is that they do not teach candidates how to utilize social media. From my review of some of Maryland's major political candidates' social media accounts, it is apparent that politicians in Maryland need the assistance of a social media lawyer to teach them how to better deploy their social media assets.

To learn how to abide by Maryland's social media election regulations and to successfully deploy social media in your campaign you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.


Copyright 2010 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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