According to TechCrunch, both sites are accused of receiving millions for political advertising purposes in the state, but they never published related information, such as the advertiser’s address. Washington law requires that “political campaign and lobbying contributions and expenditures be fully disclosed to the public and that secrecy is to be avoided.”
Court documents go on to explain that “documents and books of account” must be made available for public inspection during the campaign and for three years after. Information that should be included in these documents includes candidate, name of advertiser, address, cost and method of payment and description of services rendered.
Bob Ferguson, Washington’s attorney general, filed the lawsuit on Monday (June 4) alleging that both Facebook and Google “failed to obtain and maintain” this information.
The case came to be when earlier this year, Eli Sanders of Seattle’s The Stranger requested to view the “books of account” from both companies. In addition, another person followed up on the request in-person. When both received unsatisfactory results, the AG’s office was then alerted in mid-April.
As for the money generated by the ads, Facebook took in about $3.4 million over the last decade, including “$2.5 million paid through political consultants and other agents or intermediaries, and $619,861 paid directly to Facebook.” Google received about $1.5 million over the same period, almost none of which was paid directly to the company.
Facebook has been dealing with fallout from political ads since it was revealed that the company failed to catch 2016 election ads bought using Russian money.
“In hindsight, we should have had a broader lens. There are signals we missed,” said Colin Stretch, Facebook’s vice president and general counsel. He also called the Russia-based ads “reprehensible” for their political divisiveness.
Earlier this year, the company announced that anyone wanting to purchase an election-related advertisement on Facebook’s U.S.-based social media platform will now get a postcard in the mail to verify their identity.