Seattle is facing off against Facebook and other tech companies over a 1977 campaign finance law–and if the city succeeds, they may become the first city to regulate online political ads in the U.S.
The face-off started thanks to the reportage of everyone’s favorite local paper, The Stranger. Back in December, the paper explained how the city’s mayoral candidates spent tens of thousands of dollars on Facebook and Google ads, but there was no record of what these ads looked like or whom they were targeting, as required by Seattle law. Specifically, the law says that anyone selling advertising in local elections has to disclose “the exact nature and extent of the advertising services rendered,” on radio, TV, billboards, brochures, and, according to the city’s interpretation of the law, the internet. The Stranger wanted to know why Google, Facebook, and Twitter weren’t complying with the law.
After asking for an extension to provide the information, on February 2 Facebook finally responded to the request by sending over some information on ad expenditures, but not the images of the ads or details on who was targeted. The city wants more, and they may be willing to go to court over it.
Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, told The Stranger that the two-page spreadsheet Facebook sent over “doesn’t come close to meeting their public obligation” and that he will be discussing “next steps this week with the City Attorney’s office.” After the 2016 presidential election, CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out steps the company was taking to help protect the integrity of elections and improve transparency in political ads purchased on the site, both in the U.S. and around the world–hopefully that includes the city of Seattle.