Today the noose begins to tighten more around social media issue advocacy. Facebook is not the only platform censoring content; today Google announced a new requirement for advertisers who want to “purchase an election ad” on Google:
As a first step, we’ll now require additional verification for anyone who wants to purchase an election ad on Google in the U.S. and require that advertisers confirm they are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent residents, as required by law. That means advertisers will have to provide a government-issued ID and other key information. To help people better understand who is paying for an election ad, we’re also requiring that ads incorporate a clear disclosure of who is paying for it.
Google says its version does not go as far as Facebook’s: it doesn’t also cover “issue ads,” a slippery term not entirely defined by Facebook that can mean almost anything depending on who’s speaking. But Google will likely do so in the near future, depending on its conversations with third-parties: “As we learn from these changes and our continued engagement with leaders and experts in the field, we’ll work to improve transparency of political issue ads and expand our coverage to a wider range of elections.”
Axios has more. For example:
Advertisers can go through the verification process starting at the end of May, and Google will start enforcing the new rules on July 10, the company said.
The new requirements will apply to ads featuring candidates for federal office or current officeholders in the United States.
Google will also start requiring these ads to carry a disclosure that says who paid for them.
So even though Google’s new policy says it doesn’t cover issue ads, it probably does. Many issue ads, as defined by the Supreme Court in Wisconsin Right to Life and Internal Revenue Service rules, deal with legislative issues and say things like “Write your Senator” or “Senator Jones Supports S. 123.” One assumes these would be considered “featuring … current officeholders in the United States.”
Thus, Google now restricts issue ads even without saying so. Illustrating again how difficult it is to limit speech, even in the service of some worthy purpose, without collateral damage that would make such a policy unconstitutional if done by a government subject to the First Amendment.
[Update – Reaction to new Google policy:
Jason Torchinsky, a well-known attorney to many politically-active organizations, writes:
I think under Google’s policy – with the election related labeling – our non profit clients will have a hard time arguing that any of these ads are purely issue advertisements – no matter when they are publicly released – when they will have an “election related” label right on them.What happens even during the 2018 lame duck session? No calls to specific members from non profits that won’t do political activity or are near their limits?
So, voters shouldn’t have to be required to show government-issued ID to vote, but speakers should be required to show government-issued ID when talking about election-related topics (whatever that means).
In the immortal words of the late James Traficant, “Beam me up!”