A disclosure related to the Seattle head tax campaign that appeared today in Facebooks new archive of political ads. It fails to provide information required under new state rules.
A Facebook disclosure related to the Seattle "head tax" campaign. It fails to provide information required under new Washington State regulations.

Google has stopped selling political ads aimed at Washington State's elections because of new state transparency rules, but Facebook says it will continue selling such ads—even though it's new "archive of ads with political content," while a step forward, fails to fully comply with the rules.

For example, today in Facebook's online archive the company failed to disclose a number of required pieces of information related to ads promoting the campaign to repeal Seattle's new "head tax." These failures are replicated in other Facebook disclosures for Washington State political ads, and they include:

• The Facebook archive only provides an "estimated" range for the amount spent on each political ad.

That's not good enough under new state rules, which require disclosure of the "total" cost of each ad, as well as "how much of that amount has been paid, who made the payment, when it was paid, and what method of payment was used."

• Facebook's archive only offers a range when it comes to each political ad's impressions (meaning, "the number of times an ad was seen on a screen").

That's not good enough under state rules, either. Those rules require disclosure of the "total number of impressions generated."

• State rules require disclosure of "the name and address of the person(s) who sponsored the advertising." But currently the only "person," "name," or "address" that Facebook discloses in its archive is the Facebook page associated with an ad purchase.

In the case of the above Seattle head tax ad, for example, the disclosed Facebook page belongs to the "No Tax on Jobs PAC" (not a person) and the only "address" provided is the "No Tax on Jobs" Facebook page url.

• More fundamentally: state law requires Facebook's disclosures to be "open for public inspection."

But the Facebook archive is currently only available to Facebook members, not the general public.

The Facebook archive provides limited ad reach information, but not the required targeting information.
The Facebook archive also provides limited ad reach information. But it doesn't provide the required information on "audiences targeted."

• Further, when it comes to ad targeting information, state rules require "an approximate description of the geographic locations and audiences targeted."

But Facebook's archive only provides "estimated" information on each political ad's reach. An ad's reach is different than the ad targeting criteria an advertiser used when purchasing that ad from Facebook.

• Also, while it's not illustrative of a lack of required disclosure on Facebook's part, the geographic reach data the company provided for the above Seattle head tax ad demonstrates a problem with the state's new rules that I pointed out in May.

Currently, when disclosing an ad's geographic reach, Facebook only gets down to the state level. In the case of this particular Seattle head tax ad, for example, the disclosure of the ad's geographic reach is simply: "Washington."

For an ad aimed at influencing a Seattle-only referendum fight, on a platform that allows advertisers to target down to precise Zip codes and neighborhoods, knowing that the ad was viewed in "Washington" is not particularly helpful.

* * *

This morning I asked Facebook whether it would follow Google's path, or whether it would continue selling political ads in Washington State despite its lack of compliance with current laws and regulations—as demonstrated above, and as outlined in Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's recent lawsuit against Facebook.

In response, I received this e-mailed statement from Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management at Facebook:

We believe political advertising serves an important purpose, helping candidates connect with voters and encouraging people to get involved in the democratic process. At the same time, we believe it should be done with as much transparency as possible, which is why on Facebook, ads with political content now require a ‘paid for by’ disclaimer and live in an archive, open for anyone to review. And soon we'll show all ads a Page is currently running, not just political. Attorney General Ferguson has raised important questions and we look forward to resolving this matter with his office quickly.

Asked about Facebook's current disclosure practices, Kim Bradford, spokesperson for the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, said: "The PDC expects all commercial advertisers to comply with the rule."