Facebook, Trolling, and Memes Involved in New Montana Political Practices Decision
Montana Political Practices Commissioner Jeffrey Mangan has dismissed a complaint involving a Missoula man that paid to boost Facebook posts during the recent mayoral election. Though the complaint filed by Representative Bryce Bennett against Vent Missoula was dismissed, Mangan was clear that if similarly boosted Facebook posts were to happen again without “paid for by” attribution, they could result in a fine.
"When something is so new and it doesn't include a filing or has a reporting violation, such as attribution, we can find 'excusable neglect' and dismiss it for that," Mangan said. "Basically, [excusable neglect] is like a one time only, putting everyone else on notice that in the future, as in this case, all social media posts that are election or electioneering related, need to be properly attributed."
A similar complaint involving the Missoulian newspaper's boost of a candidate endorsement did not result in an “excusable neglect” dismissal. Mangan says sources like the Missoulian and KGVO Radio are “legitimate” or “bona fide” press, though the decision does not explain how such status is granted or why Vent Missoula didn't qualify.
"Legitimate press... you know, like the Missoulian, they do it and there is an exemption for the press under federal statute, it's a little bit different though on social media," Mangan said. "If you take a look at the exemption, we'd have to determine whether or not the website or the press was indeed a bona fide entity."
The dismissal decision covers a wide range of ground even going so far as to tally up the number of Facebook followers of Vent Missoula. Interestingly, the decision cites the crowd-sourced website Wikipedia at least twice for definitions of terms like “social media” and “memes.” Memes play a big role on the internet these days, though can be a difficult concept to explain: attempts to do so by the Political Practices Office include consideration of Vent Missoula posts including a "dog in a business suit" or featuring “video of actor Danny DeVito dressed up like actual troll” in a discussion around a 35 cent boosted post criticizing Mayor John Engen for calling a Facebook Commenter a “troll.”