California’s new “Social Media DISCLOSE Act” takes on the trending topic of online political advertising disclosure. Assuming Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, then come 2020, social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, as well as Google and similar tools, may face burdensome new obligations related to California political advertising.  Political advertisers themselves will also have to make additional disclosures. The law targets advertisements that often appear as “sponsored content,” and places the disclosure burden on the online platform.

The law applies to “online platforms” and certain persons who are registered political committees placing California political advertisements on those online platforms.  “Online platform” is defined to include websites and web or digital applications that sell advertising directly to advertisers, but not websites or apps that only display advertisements sold via another platform.

Under the Act, the platform must include with each advertisement a disclosure of who paid for the ad, or a link to the sponsor’s page on that platform or another page disclosing sponsorship information.  The platform also must maintain records of the advertisements disseminated via the platform and make them available to the public online, including via a link on the advertiser’s profile or similar page on the platform.  The records must include the first and last date the ad ran; the total impressions of the ad; the rate charged or amount spent on the ad; and information about who paid for the ad.

The advertiser, meanwhile, must notify the platform that the advertiser is placing a political advertisement, and provide the platform with the advertiser’s name as well as the name of the candidate or measure to which the advertisement refers.

The law includes an exception for video, audio, and email ads; and for ads that consist of images linking to a website.  These ads already carry significant disclosure obligations imposed in the original California DISCLOSE Act and elsewhere in state law.

The law also makes minor adjustments to disclosure of other online advertisements.  The law takes effect January 1, 2020.