Judge blocks Maryland law on political ads
Last year, amid the outcry over Russian online operations during the 2016 election, the Maryland legislature reacted by passing a law imposing disclosure and compliance burdens on social media providers and newspapers that accept online advertising. Now, in a victory for freedom of the press, a federal judge has blocked enforcement of key provisions of the state’s Online Electioneering Transparency and Accountability Act. The decision provides a reminder that lawmakers should not allow panics over “bad” kinds of speech to undermine basic freedoms protected by the First Amendment.
The Maryland law as a whole tightened regulations on “campaign materials,” broadly defined to include online and physical material that “relates to a candidate, a prospective candidate or the approval or rejection” of either an actual or a “prospective” ballot measure. The specific provisions that gave rise to the challenge required larger online platforms, such as Facebook, Google, and many daily newspaper websites, to collect and publish information from advertisers that place such materials.
Among those testifying for the bill, the Campaign Legal Center declared the bill a “well-crafted and constitutional” way to advance “greater accountability for online platforms” and said it “should serve as a model for other states.” The Brennan Center said “voluntary efforts are not enough” and favored provisions even tougher than those of the draft bill.