This article originally ran on Monday, April 20, 2015. While this piece of legislation did not pass, the attacks and attempts to stifle Texans' free speech was a running theme throughout the 84th Legislature and continues to be targeted in 2016.
Through House Bill 3684, Representative Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) attempts to define “political advertising” as including social media profile pages. Then, HB 3684 would enact “disclosure” requirements in regard to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media forums.
House Bill 3684 would mandate Suzy Citizen to add a political disclaimer when alerting friends and followers on her own personal Facebook page to vote for or against candidates for public office. For example, if her neighbor Joe Potter runs for State Representative and he supports abortion-on-demand, Suzy, when telling folks about his position, must include on her profile page a disclosure about who paid for the Facebook status:
(1) in a printed box set apart from the rest of the contents of the page;
(2) in a font size that is at least 12 pixels; and
(3) in black text on a white background or in a text color so that the degree of contrast between the background color and the disclosure text color is at least as great as the degree of contrast between the background color and the color of the largest text on the page.
Representative Geren does provide his own social media updates that currently do not follow these onerous rules. Nevertheless, his bill does allow for a link “to another Internet website page that displays the full disclosure and is operational and freely accessible during the time the advertisement is visible,” to satisfy the disclosure requirement in HB 3684.
If Suzy Citizen learned about Joe Potter’s support for abortion from Texas Right to Life’s legislative scorecard and then posted this information, what rules would apply? Would linking to the Texas Right to Life website be sufficient? But if Texas Right to Life did not pay Suzy Citizen to update her Facebook status, the “disclosure” would not be legitimate.
Would every Suzy Citizen be required to put a disclaimer on her social media pages, such as “Any political advertising is paid for by myself, Suzy Citizen?” What about retweets or shares that did not originate with Suzy herself? Such a system is crazy, unworkable, and only intimidates and silences grassroots activists who are concerned about certain policies like LIFE issues.
Unfortunately, House Bill 3684 will be heard this afternoon, Monday, April 20, in the House Committee on Elections.