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Washington AG again sues Facebook over political ads policy

Washington AG again sues Facebook over political ads policy
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Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) on Tuesday sued Facebook, alleging the social media giant did not properly disclose details of its political ad sales.

The lawsuit marks the second time Ferguson has sued the company, with Facebook paying $238,000 in penalties and legal costs following a 2018 lawsuit. The state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) rejected a proposed $75,000 over continuing violations in February, instead referring a complaint to Ferguson’s office, the Seattle Times reported.

Although Facebook said it would stop selling political ads in Washington after the 2018 lawsuit, Ferguson’s office said the company has sold at least 171 ads to political committees in the state for at least $525,000 since November 2018. While selling such ads is legal, the company is required to publicly disclose details about the candidates or measures involved, the cost of the ads and who paid for them.

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“Due to Facebook’s widespread failure to comply with the law, it is currently unknown how many total political advertisements or electioneering communications these 159 campaigns or committees sponsored on Facebook with their collective ad buy of more than half a million dollars,” Ferguson’s office said.

“Whether you’re a tech giant or a small newspaper, those who sell political ads must follow our campaign finance law,” Ferguson said in a statement. “Washingtonians have a right to know who’s behind the ads seeking to influence their vote.”

Ferguson’s office said that while Facebook makes information about its political ads available in an online Ad Library, it does not include all the required information, with the PDC claiming to have identified details such as the address of the ad sponsor, the exact cost and dates of payment, the method of payment and the name of the person who paid for the political ads.

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties as well as an injunction that would require the company to make all of the information it claims is missing public.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Hill that the company's policies prohibiting Washington state-targeted ads that apply to state-specific officials, elections and ballot initiatives remain in effect.