During the 2014 Senate race, most political candidates ignored YouTube in favor of traditional TV ads. Even so, some members of the government agency responsible for regulating campaign finances believe online video ads need more oversight. Ann Ravel, the Vice Chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), recently issued a statement urging regulators to subject online political ads to the same standards applied to political ads on TV.
Ravel specifically cited a case involving several ads from the 2012 election cycle, which were run by a group called Checks and Balances for Economic Growth. Those ads, which attacked Democrats, did not include all the necessary disclaimers at the end of each video. Checks and Balances for Economic Growth responded by stating it was exempt from those regulations since it had only run the ads on YouTube and did not broadcast them on TV.
This video, from what seems to be Check and Balances’ official YouTube home, appears to be one of the ads in question. It accuses Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown of lying about the “war on coal”. Brown won re-election in 2012.
Ravel’s statement has drawn criticism from opponents, including some of her Republican colleagues at the FEC. FEC Chairman Lee E. Goodman, for instance, believes that regulating Internet videos would require a massive amount of government oversight. He likened Ravel’s proposal to the sort of action he’d expect from “a Chinese censorship board.”
If politicians and their supporters plan to use YouTube as a regular part of their campaign strategy, the regulations Ravel proposes are probably unavoidable. So far, though, politicians haven’t shown much interest in web video advertising. Instead, they have continued to rely on TV, where the Washington Post estimates one million ads have been run this election cycle.
As ReelSEO explains, platforms like YouTube are poor fits for political ads, because online viewers don’t tend to overlap with the audience of undecided voters, who are most affected by political ads. In addition, most political ads trigger negative emotions, but content that inspires viewers is more likely to get shared online.
Until politicians take a bigger interest in YouTube, it will be hard for many people to see online video campaign finance reform as a big issue. In the meantime, YouTube will still be a top platform for spreading delightful memes born from political videos.