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Texas social media influencers must disclose political ad payments

Social media influencers in Texas must now disclose payments received for political advertisements.

The Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) unanimously approved the proposed rule on March 20. The amendment then entered a 30-day open comment period and was ultimately finalized by the commission on Tuesday with a unanimous 7-0 vote.

Under the Texas Ethics Commission’s new amendment to Chapter 26.1 of the Commission Rules, individuals who receive compensation for posting political messages must disclose information regarding payments received.

The TEC’s action comes in response to growing concerns over the influence of undisclosed political messages on various social media platforms.

Last summer, The Texas Tribune reported that the company Influenceable allegedly paid social media influencers to promote narratives supporting or defending Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. As previously reported, Tony Ortiz shared a screenshot revealing that Influenceable circulated a chain text message offering $50 in exchange for a single original post on a political issue.

Under the new rules, influencers must disclose payments exceeding $100 for creating or reposting political advertisements. The amendment aims to clarify existing regulations, eliminating exceptions that previously allowed political messages to be posted freely on social media platforms without financial transparency.

James Tinsley, TEC’s general counsel, emphasized that the changes do not introduce new requirements but rather close existing loopholes in payment disclosure obligations for social media influencers.

“This is not the case of the TEC inventing a substantive requirement to rule making. It’s quite the opposite. It’s pairing [sic] back an exception,” said Tinsley.

Andrew Cates, an attorney specializing in political campaigns, voiced concerns to the Tribune about the rule’s narrow impact, suggesting it does not properly address the responsibilities of those funding political ads or messages on social media.

This ruling from the TEC comes less than a week after Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, called on Congress to require social media platforms to include warning labels akin to those seen on cigarette packs.

In a late 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 18% of U.S. adults claimed to rely mostly on social media for political and election news.

Based on data published in May of 2024, Americans spend approximately 2 hours and 24 minutes per day on social media, per ExplodingTopics.

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