Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

The 140-Character Campaign: Regulating Social Media Usage in Campaign Advertising

Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

The 140-Character Campaign: Regulating Social Media Usage in Campaign Advertising

Article excerpt



Over the past decade social media has become an integral part of any major political campaign. Particularly, the use of Facebook and Twitter appears to be a necessary component for a successful campaign. This trend began with President Barack Obama embracing the use of social media during his first presidential campaign in 2008. (1) Four years later, as President Obama won a second term in office, two things became abundantly clear: the 2012 presidential election had truly been the "Twitter Election," (2) and social media had forever changed political campaigns.

This shift to social media was rather easy to predict. Candidates who failed to utilize social media services risked fading into obscurity. Considering "the median age of a TV evening news viewer [is] approaching 63 years old," it is clear that social media is crucial to a candidate's campaign. (3) If a candidate wants to reach a larger, more diverse audience and, more importantly, have an influence on that audience, social media is becoming the best, if not the only, option. (4)

The best utilization of social media in a political campaign is through advertising. While the political world may be keeping up with social media, the law is not. In the United States, only two states have passed social media-specific laws outlining appropriate uses of social media in campaign advertising. (5)

With social media becoming a campaign necessity, it is time for the law to catch up. Consider Senator Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey. (6) He is believed to run his own Twitter account and is largely the first major politician to do so. (7) He does not back down from critics, either, addressing complaints and criticisms with well-crafted responses. (8) He even offers to give distressed followers his cell phone number so they can call him directly for advice. (9)

Next, consider the Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal. Weiner sent sexually inappropriate pictures to various women through Twitter that became public, causing him to resign his seat in the House of Representatives. (10) Weiner and Booker represent different ends of the social media spectrum for politicians, but the Weiner scandal raises the question of whether politicians should be on social media at all considering the potential consequences.

This Note begins with an examination of how social media functions. Special attention will be paid to Twitter and Facebook, the platforms used to connect with the most people. The basics of the different services will be discussed, and major functions will be explained.

This Note will then examine state law from New Jersey, New York, California, Florida, and Maryland. Florida and Maryland are the only two states that have legislation specifically addressing social media and Internet advertising. What aspects of the other states' laws make their application to social media problematic? What major questions are left unanswered, and how necessary are those answers in a digital world? The Florida and Maryland laws will be examined to answer questions posed in other states, but will these answers prove satisfactory?

Having considered the various provisions across the United States, what is appropriate for public office campaigns throughout the country? With a new generation of social media-savvy politicians just over the horizon, progressive regulations for social media usage that leave room for further technological advancement should be implemented. This issue will be addressed with model legislation. Additionally, what needs to go into this legislation to make it work, and how can it be written to sustain the ever-changing technological landscape?

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