Disclosures For Political Advertising Are Not Enough To Safeguard Our Democracy
In traditional media channels, if you make a false claim or otherwise act disingenuously, the Federal Trade Commission comes down on you hard. FTC truth-in-advertising laws pay particular attention to the veracity of the claims advertisers make in their ads. This is why Listerine no longer claims it “prevents and cures sore throats" and Rice Krispies no longer suggests that Snap Crackle and Pop team up to “boost immunity.”
The FTC is also keen on identifying exactly who is behind those claims, which is why it requires disclosures on political advertising (Paid for by the Choi for Congress Committee). But as important as this is to prevent foreign influence on American elections, the FTC does not require disclosure on some of the most common digital ad formats. This is thanks to Google’s “bumper sticker” defense back in 2010. The search giant argued that just like political bumper stickers, ads below a certain, strict character limit—think search ads—do not need a disclaimer.
The FEC was split on the decision, ultimately allowing Google to run political ads without a disclaimer. Instead, the FEC decided that the Google ads would link to a disclaimer on a landing page. A year later Facebook made the same “bumper sticker” defense to avoid “paid-for” disclaimers on political ads appearing in their feed.
Fast forward to today. Only after Google and Facebook received pressure from Congress did they turn over thousands of Russia-linked ads to House and Senate committees investigating Kremlin influence on the 2016 presidential campaign. Mark Zuckerberg said via a Facebook Live video, “I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity” and that he did not want anyone “to use our tools to undermine democracy.”
Senators John McCain, Amy Klobuchar, and Mark Warner share Zuck's newfound concern. In a bi-partisan effort, the senators look to require Facebook, Google and other internet companies to disclose who is purchasing online political advertising. Nativo supports the call for disclosure. Fooling consumers with misinformation, preying on deep-seated socio-political fissures, and allowing foreign influence in our elections should be prevented at all costs.
Let this be a wake-up call for our industry. It’s time that adtech embraces the importance of its role in supporting a free press with an ad-supported, open web at its foundation. Unfortunately, disclaimers are not enough. The lack of human oversight in programmatic advertising means that any automated safeguards can and will be circumvented. We cannot accept fake ads and fake news as collateral damage of automation any more than we can accept our continuing struggles with viewability and fraud.
I’m proud to say that authenticity, transparency, and accountability have been core tenets of the Nativo mission since Day 1. It is why we require dual disclosure of all native advertising and why we stand behind our human traffic and viewability guarantees. I encourage you to request a copy of Nativo's guide to political best practices. Without this kind of vigilant oversight and monitoring, Nativo believes the open dissemination of news and thoughtful commentary—and ultimately our democracy—remain at risk.