May 12, 2010

Tweet by Authority of: Elections officials making rules for social media

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

State elections officials are developing regulations to tell candidates on how they should identify themselves on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

The rules will likely involve displaying Maryland’s traditional “By Authority of” line that includes the name of the campaign committee and treasurer on the Internet postings. This is probably unworkable for Twitter’s 140-character count, but they’re working on an alternative.

“This is more for a candidate’s protection,” said Jared DeMarinis, head of the candidacy and campaign finance division of the State Board of Elections. He said it will help people understand what’s coming from the candidates, and what’s coming from “friends” that might not be so friendly.

Currently there are no rules about how candidates use social media, and many states are grappling with the new issue, DeMarinis said.

DeMarinis is still working on the new regulations, which would have to be approved by the five-member state board. He said the writing of the rules is complicated by the fact that they need to cover all social media that are similar to the most popular sites.

“Hopefully, we can get them done relatively soon,” said DeMarinis, but “we haven’t even talked to the board about this.”

DeMarinis talked about the rules seminar for candidates about how to comply with campaign finance laws at the Howard County Board of Elections in Ellicott City Wednesday. The seminars are usually held monthly in the state elections office in Annapolis.

DeMarinis said it would be easy to put an authority line on Facebook and other sites, but Twitter, with its character count is more problematic.

He said one approach might be to “have the campaigns register their Twitter accounts.”

Most candidates for state and local office now use some forms of social media, particularly Facebook.

But because of the open nature of Facebook and other social media, opponents can also use “fan” sites to undermine a candidate they are allegedly supporting, as he saw in at least once instance.

DeMarinis also urged candidates and their campaigns use the authority line in all their e-mails.  “My e-mail box starts filling up” with complaints about candidates who do not use the “authority” line in their electronic communications, he said.

The lack of authority lines on campaign materials is the source of the most complaints DeMarinis gets about campaigns. One complainant even sent him a deflated balloon with a candidate’s name — and no authority line.