Today, two weeks after Google moved to comply with Seattle's unique law on political ad transparency, Facebook delivered what it's calling "supplemental information" to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
"Supplemental," because back on February 2, the company, in its first attempt at complying with local law, offered the Ethics and Elections Commission a seriously flawed and far-too-minimalist spreadsheet relating to Facebook ads that targeted this city's 2017 municipal elections.
At the time, Ethics and Elections Director Wayne Barnett said that Facebook's two-page spreadsheet "doesn’t come close to meeting their public obligation." He added, ominously: "I’ll be discussing our next steps this week with the City Attorney’s office."
After that, two interesting things happened.
On February 20, Facebook told Barnett it would soon be sending him more information. Two days later, Google, which is also required to turn over local election ad data, delivered Barnett a white binder full of details on its 2017 election ads.
Now, it appears that Facebook has decided to outdo Google when it comes to Seattle election ad disclosure.
"While we haven't completed our review of what Facebook sent over yet," Barnett said, "I am happy to see Facebook provide us with vastly more information than they originally supplied. We now have copies of ads, when they ran, and some information about the audiences reached by those ads. We will likely have questions for Facebook after we've completed our review, but I am confident today that Facebook will work with us to get Seattle residents the information they're legally entitled to about advertising in city elections."
Unlike Google, which gave Barnett its ad details via printed pages in a white binder, Facebook delivered a CD holding hundreds of digital images and videos that Seattle campaigns paid Facebook to target at local voters last year.
It also sent over a new, 84-page spreadsheet (that's a 4,000 percent increase over the number of pages in Facebook's earlier spreadsheet) that, while impressively hard to navigate and oddly formatted, goes significantly beyond what Google has disclosed about its ads.
Google failed to provide each ad's targeting information (disclosing only each ad's "number of displays"), but Facebook has now shared the number of impressions each of its ads received, the age and gender groups each ad reached, and the geographic region each ad reached.
Geography and gender are far from all of the targeting options one has when buying a Facebook ad, and it seems likely that local campaigns targeted their ads at Seattle voters with considerably more precision than has now been disclosed by Facebook.
But compared to Facebook's earlier disclosure, this one is definitely closer to telling the public "the exact nature and extent of the advertising services rendered," as local law requires of companies selling political ads aimed at influencing our elections.
I've just begun my look through Facebook's spreadsheet and the hundreds of ads that came with it, and will report back on what they reveal.