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Facebook faces a standoff with the city of Seattle over election ads

The social giant faces a penalty of $5,000 per ad.


Phillip Tracy


Posted on Feb 6, 2018   Updated on May 22, 2021, 1:54 am CDT

Officials in Seattle have accused Facebook of violating a local law that requires it to disclose the identity of those who purchased election advertisements on its platform. According to Reuters, the social giant faces penalties if it fails to provide details about the accounts that bought ads in last year’s city election.

In what is the first attempt at regulating U.S. political ads on the internet, Facebook could be fined up to $5,000 per advertisement. It would be a nominal fee for the world’s largest social network, but one that could further damage its wavering reputation.

Facebook vice president Will Castleberry told Reuters that the company already sent the commissioner data, stressing, “Facebook is a strong supporter of transparency in political advertising. In response to a request from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission we were able to provide relevant information.”

However, Wayne Barnett, the executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said the information Facebook provided “doesn’t come close to meeting their public obligation.” The social network provided partial spending numbers but not copies of ads, Reuters reports.

The standoff appears to contradict statements made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in September when he claimed the company would “create a new standard for transparency in online political ads.”

The bold declaration was an attempt to alleviate worry caused by Facebook’s failure to police Russian advertisements during the 2016 presidential election. The company admitted to selling $100,000 worth of ads to a Russian “troll farm” beginning in the summer of 2015. It estimates 126 million users were exposed to Russian propaganda.

The law being disputed in Seattle requires companies that sell election ads, like radio stations and TV networks, to document the names, payments, and nature of the ads. So far, the legislation has not been enforced against internet companies. In response to Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, the Federal Election Commission is pushing the Honest Ads Act, which would require companies like Google and Facebook to make details about sold ads public.

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*First Published: Feb 6, 2018, 12:29 pm CST