Washington State is now first place in the U.S. where Facebook (and Google) wont sell local election ads. Heres why.
Washington State is now the first place in the U.S. where Facebook and Google won't sell ads targeting local elections. Here's why. young84 / Getty Images

As it promised it would, Facebook rang in the new year with a ban on political ads aimed at local elections in Washington state.

In a statement, the company described the ban as a response to "new rules" from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission that took effect January 1.

In fact, those rules are largely not new. And Facebook's announcement that it would prohibit the purchase of local political ads came directly after it and Google reached a $455,000 settlement on December 18 with Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who had filed lawsuits accusing both tech giants of years of violations of Washington's strong transparency requirements.

Google enacted its own ban on Washington state political ads six months ago—after Ferguson filed his lawsuits, and after the PDC affirmed that a landmark 1972 election reform law applies to today's digital platforms. Google's local ad ban is still in effect here.

All of which means that as we head into 2019, Washington state has suddenly become the first place in the U.S. where Facebook and Google won't sell ads aimed at getting people to vote a certain way in local races or ballot initiatives.

In the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election using targeted online ads paid for in rubles—and with Congress so far having done nothing to expand federal election disclosure requirements to digital platforms—Washington's situation stands out.

Both Google and Facebook have said repeatedly that they want to do more to let users know who's paying for political messaging that reaches voters through smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices. But both companies have also admitted that as of now, they can't be transparent enough to satisfy Washington's rules.

Google has even had difficulty enforcing its current ad ban, with more than $6,000 in local political ads slipping through its systems.

Facebook did not respond to a question about how it plans to enforce its local ad ban here in Washington state.

(Want more on how all of this came about? Start here.)