Candidates must adhere to new social media rules

Lawmakers voted Tuesday to establish rules for candidates using Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites, making Maryland one of the first states in the nation to regulate the increasingly popular means of campaigning.

Starting two weeks from now, candidates must begin including an authority line — a declaration of approval that lists their campaign treasurer — on the social networking sites run by their campaigns.

The more than 700 people who have filed to run for statewide office, as well as hundreds of candidates for local posts, will soon receive information in the mail explaining the new social media policies, elections officials said.

The rules do not mean that each 140-character "tweet" has to contain that detailed information. Rather, it has to be on the "landing page" that corrals all of the tweets for a specific candidate.

Both major gubernatorial contenders, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., are already including authority lines in the biography section of their pages on Facebook and Twitter. Elections officials pointed to those sites as a model of what all candidates must now do.

"This is very new," said Jared DeMarinis, director of the division of candidacy and campaign finance for the State Board of Elections, which crafted the regulations. "We're taking the rules as they are today and applying them to Internet."

Social networking companies have lauded the state for being at the forefront of the issue. Representatives of Google, AOL, Yahoo and Facebook journeyed to Annapolis on Tuesday to testify in favor of the regulations.

Only Florida has specifically regulated how candidates can use social media sites, the company representatives said, and lawmakers there did so only after a lawsuit.

"Maryland is definitely at the forefront of this," said David Lieber, state policy counsel for Google.

AOL's Will Castleberry, vice president of public policy, said Maryland will "absolutely be a model" as other states begin to develop social media policies for candidates.

Maryland's new rules also provide clarity on what a candidate must do if he or she wants to purchase an online ad with Facebook or Google or another provider. If the ad is too small to include the full authority line — which it often is — candidates will need to include a link to their official campaign site.

The Maryland General Assembly's joint committee on administrative, executive, and legislative review heard testimony and then voted 11-to-1 to approve the emergency regulations.

Del. Michael Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican, opposed the regulations, saying they could have a "chilling effect" on the free speech of candidates.

In an appropriately timed display of just how pervasive social media are this election season, several committee members posted updates during the hearing.

"This may be one of my last authority line-free twitters unless the hearing I am in votes to reject the proposed electronic media rules," Smigiel posted just before voting against the regulations.

And Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, confided to committee members that he'd been updating his Facebook page during the hearing.

As the hearing concluded, he posted a status update saying, "just voted to approve the new emergency regulations concerning authority line requirements and electronic media. The vote was 11 to 1 to adopt them. In my opinion, they make great sense and help inform the public as to who is communicating and for what purpose."