Washington AG sues Facebook over political ads

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Washington state’s attorney general filed a second lawsuit against Facebook Inc over political ads on Tuesday, saying the social media giant once again failed to make disclosures required under the state’s campaign finance laws.

Facebook already paid $238,000 in 2018 to resolve a previous dispute over political advertising in Washington state.

The company announced later that year that it would stop accepting political ads related to state or local initiatives in Washington, although it still permitted advertisements around “issues of national importance” targeting people in the state.

In a statement on Tuesday, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that Facebook had continued selling hundreds of ads to at least 171 state political committees since 2018, in violation of its own policy.

Ferguson says the company’s Ad Library, a searchable database aimed at providing transparency around political advertising, provides some information about those ads but does not include details required under Washington law such as the name of the person paying for the ads or their precise cost.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company aimed to work with authorities in Washington to resolve the dispute.

Social media companies have been sharing more information about political advertising since U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia targeted American voters with social media content, including ads, to try to influence the 2016 presidential election. Russia has denied the allegations.

Facebook’s Ad Library has been a cornerstone of its efforts to be more transparent about its role in elections, and the company frequently points to it in response to criticism about its decision not to fact-check political ads. But researchers say the database is poorly maintained and fails to provide detailed targeting data.

Competitors Google, Twitter and Snap have launched similar advertising libraries in recent years, while Reddit announced a new such project this week, although other platforms have imposed more stringent rules around misleading information and targeting for political ads.

Reporting by Katie Paul; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall

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