FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Seattle’s election authority said on Monday
that Facebook Inc is in violation of a city law that requires
disclosure of who buys election ads, the first attempt of its kind
to regulate U.S. political ads on the internet.
PHOTO: Facebook logo is seen at a start-up companies
gathering at Paris' Station F in Paris, France on January
17, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
must disclose details about spending in last year’s Seattle city
elections or face penalties, Wayne Barnett, executive director of
the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said in a statement.
penalties could be up to $5,000 per advertising buy, Barnett said,
adding that he would discuss next steps this week with Seattle’s
was not immediately clear how Facebook would respond if penalized.
Facebook said in a statement it had sent the commission some data.
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,” said
Will Castleberry, a Facebook vice president.
said Facebook’s response “doesn’t come close to meeting their
public obligation.” The company provided partial spending numbers,
but not copies of ads or data about whom they targeted.
unregulated nature of U.S. online political ads drew attention
last year after Facebook said Russians using fake names bought ads
on the social network to try to sway voters ahead of the 2016
presidential election. Moscow denies trying to meddle in the
online election ads requires little more than a credit card.
Federal law does not currently force online ad sellers such as
Facebook or Alphabet Inc’s Google and YouTube to disclose the
identity of the buyers.
is pending to extend federal rules governing political advertising
on television and radio to also cover internet ads, and tech firms
have announced plans to voluntarily disclose some data.
Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in September that his company
would “create a new standard for transparency in online political
the center of the Seattle dispute is a 1977 law that requires
companies that sell election advertising, such as radio stations,
to maintain public books showing the names of who bought ads, the
payments and the “exact nature and extent of the advertising
law went unenforced against tech companies until a local
newspaper, The Stranger, published a story in December in the wake
of the Russia allegations asking why.
sent letters to Facebook and Google asking them to provide data.
The sides have been in talks, and last month Facebook employees
met in person with commission staff.
gave Facebook ample time to comply with the law,” Barnett said.
has asked for more time to comply, and that request is pending,
experts said they were unaware of any similar regulation attempts
by other U.S. localities or states.
the negative publicity around Facebook’s failure to provide
adequate transparency in the 2016 elections, I would be surprised
if they tried to challenge this law,” said Brendan Fischer of the
Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit that favors campaign finance
by David Ingram; Editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish