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Meta found guilty of flouting Washington political ad laws – again

Hundreds of 'intentional' violations could cost Zuck and Co $30k each

Facebook has been found guilty in Washington of breaking the state's strict campaign finance transparency laws – again – and was defeated in its attempt to get a judge to loosen those laws to favor it. 

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said on Friday that a judge in King County Superior Court ruled that not only had the Facebook parent company violated Washington's political ad statutes, but that it had done so intentionally on hundreds of occasions. 

Per the law, commercial advertisers like Facebook are required to maintain records of political campaign ads hosted on their platforms, including costs, sponsors, and targeting information. According to Ferguson's office, Facebook's ad library includes some, but not all, of the data Washington state requires it to include. 

Ferguson's office has twice sued Meta for not producing appropriate campaign advertising records, with the first suit in 2018 being decided by a consent decree that saw Meta pay out just $238,000. 

According to Ferguson's office, "Meta continued to run Washington political ads without maintaining the required information," which prompted a second suit in 2020, of which this latest decision is part. 

Washington state law could fine Meta $10,000 per violation, which can be tripled in this instance as Meta was found guilty of violating the law intentionally.

Meta fought the law; the law won

In its motion for summary judgment [PDF], Meta said that Washington's political speech laws were "onerous" violations of the First Amendment that the state "cannot justify… under heightened scrutiny." 

The company made a number of claims for why it believed the judge should strike portions of the statute, including aforementioned First Amendment violations, that the law violated the Communications Decency Act, and that similar laws had been struck down in other jurisdictions. By ruling in favor of Ferguson's office, the judge appeared unconvinced of Meta's reasoning. 

"We defeated Facebook's cynical attempt to strike down our campaign finance transparency law. On behalf of the people of Washington, I challenge Facebook to accept this decision and do something very simple – follow the law," Ferguson said. 

Facebook and Meta have been mired in political controversy since 2016, when evidence emerged of widespread misinformation campaigns during the US presidential election. Since then, Meta has done little to assuage fears despite the company pledging to open up its data vaults in the name of political ad transparency. 

Election misinformation continues to circulate on social media platforms – including Facebook – which makes Meta's claim that it plans to take a similar approach to the 2022 midterms that it did with the 2020 presidential election less than comforting. 

Google, Twitter, and TikTok have also revealed plans to combat political misinformation ahead of US midterms this November, mostly consisting of stepping up fact checking, deranking content flagged as misinformation, and prompting users to read a link before sharing it. 

The Associated Press said that the various platforms shared little in the way of specifics, like how much manpower or cash they were devoting to the efforts, that could help quantify how effective they may actually be. ®

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