Last year Facebook said they would no longer run ads supporting local candidates running for office. Months later, it’s still happening.
Candidate Andrew Koeppen has spent about $17 so far for a Facebook advertisement that began circulating on Facebook in February. It targeted people who are over 18 and served as experimentation for the Redmond mayoral candidate early in his campaign.
In June state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued both Facebook and Google over political advertising after the AG got word that Facebook and Google failed to provide legally required information on numerous ads placed by several state campaigns. Facebook settled a lawsuit with the AG last year for $238,500.
The AG’s lawsuit was filed prior to HB 2938’s June 7, 2018, effective date. The legislation altered campaign finance laws and under these new guidelines, the AG’s Office said they can no longer independently pursue campaign finance cases. Instead, complaints should be made to the Public Disclosure Committee, and they then can choose (or not choose) to send a referral to the AG.
Of their own choosing, Facebook announced in December 2018 that they would no longer accept “ads that relate to Washington’s state or local elected officials, candidates, elections or ballot initiatives while we look to address these new disclosure requirements.” Ads that pertained to issues of “national importance” in the state would continue.
Koeppen’s ad still slipped by Facebook officials. The process, recalled to the best of his ability, involved starting the process online, proving his identification, receiving a letter at his residence, with an authorized code. “Then I put in those codes, clicked on yes, that it was a political ad, reviewed and away it goes,” he said. “I followed the rules. They looked at everything.”
By email, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We’ve have taken steps to address new rules and stopped accepting ads that relate to state and local candidates or elected officials from Washington State or state ballot measures. We have re-reviewed these ads and rejected them. They will remain in the archive as part of our overall effort to be transparent about ads related to politics and issues that run on Facebook. We will be working to make sure similar ads are unable to run in the future.”
Two days later, on Feb. 27, Koeppen’s ad showed an inactive status on Facebook’s ad library page.
Facebook’s role in politics has previously been a topic of debate. CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the U.S. Senate in April 2018 after it was discovered that millions of Facebook users had their data shared with Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that worked with the Trump campaign. He was grilled over the information share, but also on Russian influencers that used the platform as a vehicle during the 2016 Presidential Election.
Kim Bradford, communications director for the PDC, said the office is aware of candidates continuing to run political advertising with Facebook, and that they’re free to do so.
“There’s nothing in that settlement that prohibited candidates from using the platform the way they have in the past,” Bradford said. But disclosure requirements remain. If a member of the public wants to see information about an ad, certain details need to be made available.
“Some of that is handled by the political ad archive Facebook had established. Some of the details would have to be provided directly by Facebook,” Bradford said. “Not all of the details specified in rule are available in the political ad archive.” Additional information would need to be provided by Facebook, she added.
A self-proclaimed newbie on the Washington campaign front, Koeppen said he wasn’t aware of the Facebook lawsuit. He followed all of the rules set by Facebook.
“If this is an issue, for $17.08, I’ll definitely get rid of this,” he said.