Facebook To Feds: Our Campaign Ad Slots Are Too Small For Disclosure

Facebook has asked the Federal Election Commission to confirm that advertisements on the social networking website shouldn’t have to abide by campaign regulations which require a disclaimer on who paid for the ads.

In a 14-page letter sent to the FEC on April 26, three lawyers working on Facebook’s behalf argue that small campaign ads on the social networking site should be exempt because displaying disclaimers would be impractical. TPM was alerted to Facebook’s letter by a source.Facebook touts its status as a “gathering point for the American electorate” and argued that changing the size or format of their ads “would cause a significant disruption to Facebook’s basic advertising model.”

The company argues that including a disclaimer in Facebook ads would be “inconvenient and impracticable” and argue they should be exempt under the FEC’s “small items” and “impracticable” exceptions.

Federal regulations require that public communications identifies the person or persons who paid for that communication as well as the person or persons who authorized the communication. But the FEC has allowed for exceptions in certain types of communications including pens, bumper stickers, campaign pins, campaign buttons, skywriting, clothing and water towers.

“In the vast majority of these mediums – e.g. television, radio, billboards, magazines, newspapers, and e-mail – it is not inconvenient or impracticable to include a disclaimer,” lawyers for the company argue. “With some mediums, however – e.g. bumper stickers, buttons, pens, t-shirts, concert tickets, and text messages – it is inconvenient or impracticable to include a disclaimer.”

“Significantly, many of the items specifically enumerated in the ‘small items’ exemption are small because of consumer demand, rather than technological limits. The size of bumper stickers and buttons, for example, are not limited by technology,” they argue.

Facebook argued that it opted for smaller ads on its website because “larger ads could disrupt the social networking experience for Facebook users and discourage users from visiting the website.”

They also note that the FEC concluded last October that political committees that purchased Google search ads would not violate the law or section 110.11 of FEC regulations by failing to include a disclaimer within the ad since including the candidate’s full name, the commission found, “could require more characters for the disclaimer than are allowed for the text ad itself.”

“Just as manufacturers of bumper stickers, buttons, and concert tickets made a business decision to sell these items in a small size, Facebook has made a business decision to sell small ads,” Facebook’s lawyers write. “The purpose of the ‘small items’ exception is to allow political committees to speak through mediums, like Facebook ads, that consumers actually use.”

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes told TPM in a statement that the social network “gives a wide range of candidates and causes a voice where they would otherwise not be able to afford one through more traditional political advertising.”

“We encourage the FEC to consider these benefits and other fundamental differences between some online ad formats and newspaper and TV advertising,” Noyes said.

[Ed. note: This story has been updated to include comment from a Facebook spokesman.]