Social media influencers must disclose political partnerships, ruling states

The Texas Ethics Commission voted 7-0 Tuesday to require social media influencers to disclose if they're being paid to make a political statement. 

"This is essentially just an extension of our normal political disclaimer rules to the digital age," said TEC chair Randall Erben. 

"This is a very proactive step," said Dr. Brian Smith, political science professor at St. Edward's University. "It's all about increased transparency."

Smith says the rule change essentially brings content creators in line with old-school political ads, in terms of having to say where the money comes from. 

"With traditional broadcast ads, you always hear 'I am so-and-so, and I support this ad,'" said Smith. "Influencers can reach a much broader segment of the population than can traditional media."

In recent years, campaigns have begun recruiting influencers, taking advantage of their massive following, and paying them to say something nice, or not so nice, about a candidate or issue. 


"They've got one million followers or whatever because [they do] makeup tutorials, or they do pranks or stunts or whatever. They don't know anything about what they're posting. To be honest, they're doing it for the money because they're being paid," said campaign law attorney Andrew Cates, speaking at Tuesday's TEC meeting. 

Last year, a company with GOP ties paid a group of Gen Z influencers to shore up support for Attorney General Ken Paxton ahead of his impeachment trial, and attack his political rival, House Speaker Dade Phelan. 

"They're spending a lot of money. And anytime you have money in politics, there has to be some kind of oversight and some kind of regulation. You can't have the Wild West when we're trying to elect very important people," said Smith. 

Despite a decisive vote, the TEC did bring up concerns that the new rules could be weaponized to go after normal people who are simply posting about politics. 

"One of the downsides would be stifling free speech," said Smith. "This is still on its baby steps, and we'll see how it plays out in the fall elections."