Washington State Sues Facebook And Google Over Political Ads

Facebook and Google failed to comply with a Washington law requiring companies to maintain publicly available information about political ads, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson alleges in new lawsuits against the tech companies.

Washington law requires companies selling political ads to allow members of the public to learn detailed information about the ad buys -- including names of candidates, names and addresses of purchasers and the total cost of the ad. State authorities say the law applies to online platforms like Google and Facebook.

Since 2008, Facebook collected $3.1 million from Washington politicians and campaigns and Google took in $1.5 million, according to the complaint. The lawsuits refer to an investigation by the Seattle-based newspaper The Stranger, which reported last year that both Facebook and Google refused to provide a reporter with information about political ads that ran in 2017.



Ferguson alleges that both Facebook and Google are "commercial advertisers" -- a term defined by Washington law as companies that sell "the service of communicating messages" to the public.

“Washington’s political advertising disclosure laws apply to everyone, whether you are a small-town newspaper or a large corporation,” Ferguson stated. “Washingtonians have a right to know who’s paying for the political advertising they see.”

Facebook's Rob Leathern, director of product management, says that Ferguson "has raised important questions," and that the company looks forward "to resolving this matter with his office quickly.”

The social networking service recently introduced new labeling requirements for political ads. It also is maintaining a searchable archive of political ads that have appeared on the service since May 7.

Google hasn't yet responded to MediaPost's request for comment.

Ferguson's move comes as federal lawmakers are still considering new rules regarding disclosure of online political ads. Last October, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and John McCain (R-Arizona) introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would require some web publishers with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain publicly available copies of political ads purchased by groups spending more than a total of $500. The bill would also require those web companies to maintain public records about the target audience, number of views, rates charged, and dates and times of publication.

The Federal Election Commission is also crafting new rules regarding online ad disclaimers. The push for new rules stems largely from revelations that Russian operatives purchased campaign ads that appeared on Facebook, Google and Twitter during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

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