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Seattle says Facebook is violating city campaign finance law

From Reuters - February 5, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Seattles election authority said on Monday that Facebook Inc is in violation of a city law that requires disclosure of who buys election ads, the first attempt of its kind to regulate U.S. political ads on the internet.

Facebook must disclose details about spending in last years Seattle city elections or face penalties, Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said in a statement.

The penalties could be up to $5,000 per advertising buy, Barnett said, adding that he would discuss next steps this week with Seattles city attorney.

It was not immediately clear how Facebook would respond if penalized. Facebook said in a statement it had sent the commission some data.

Facebook is a strong supporter of transparency in political advertising. In response to a request from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission we were able to provide relevant information, said Will Castleberry, a Facebook vice president.

Barnett said Facebooks response doesnt come close to meeting their public obligation. The company provided partial spending numbers, but not copies of ads or data about whom they targeted.

The unregulated nature of U.S. online political ads drew attention last year after Facebook said Russians using fake names bought ads on the social network to try to sway voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Moscow denies trying to meddle in the election.

Buying online election ads requires little more than a credit card. Federal law does not currently force online ad sellers such as Facebook or Alphabet Incs Google and YouTube to disclose the identity of the buyers.

Legislation is pending to extend federal rules governing political advertising on television and radio to also cover internet ads, and tech firms have announced plans to voluntarily disclose some data.

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