Last week, the Federal Elections Commission issued an Advisory Opinion on how PACs can use Twitter handles in disclaimer language.
Historically, this has been a vague issue with social media falling under the same category as bumper stickers and skywriting. However, the revelations that a Kremlin-linked company purchased more than $100,000 in ads on Facebook during the 2016 cycle, prompted FEC commissioners to act. Last week, they voted to reopen public comment for possibly changing the rules surrounding the disclaimer requirements of online ads.
This AO, in response to a request by Dan Backer on behalf of Great America PAC and The Committee to Defend the President, might offer insights into how the FEC will tackle the issue of regulating online ads.
The commissioners voted that Great America PAC may use its Twitter handle, @GreatAmericaPAC, in lieu of the committee’s full name in both print and spoken disclosures. As explained in the AO, “the use of Great America PAC’s Twitter handle would give adequate notice of the identity of the political committee paying for the communication, it may use its Twitter handle as its name in its disclaimers.”
However, they also voted that a Twitter handle is not sufficient to replace the requirement for the committee’s permanent street address, website, and phone number. The AO explains that legislation specifically requires this information to be included in disclaimers.
Interestingly, the FEC also ruled that a Twitter handle can’t be substituted for a website address. Because the convention of the @ sign before the handle is not unique to Twitter, the handle is not sufficient to replace the URL of the PAC’s website. Since other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram use the @ symbol to reference specific accounts, a Twitter handle is not a unique identifier, like a URL. Even if that Twitter handle refers to a profile containing a link to the PAC’s website, the web address must be included in disclaimer language.
When asked if these two PACs could use Twitter without including a disclaimer on the profile pages, the commissioners were unable to reach the requirement of four affirmative votes. Thus, they were unable to vote on if it was sufficient for a profile to merely contain a link or web address of the PAC’s website, which contains the full disclaimer, nor decide if it was sufficient to include the disclaimer in a Twitter profile graphic.