A Washington state judge ruled Friday that Facebook repeatedly violated campaign finance rules requiring platforms to release information about political advertisers on their sites.
King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North also turned down Facebook’s request to gut part of the law, delivering a blow to the social media giant’s challenge of some of the strictest disclosure rules governing digital political advertising in the country, according to the attorney general’s office.
“We defeated Facebook’s cynical attempt to strike down our campaign finance transparency law,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) said in a statement. “On behalf of the people of Washington, I challenge Facebook to accept this decision and do something very simple — follow the law.”
The ruling arrives as Meta faces scrutiny over how much information it discloses about the way political candidates use marketing campaigns on its social networks. Facebook has long faced criticism over allowing political campaigns to narrowly tailor their ad purchases.
The company is also being scrutinized for its decisions to leave up or take down misinformation ahead of the 2022 midterms. Advocates have charged that the platform is neglecting to address election-related misinformation, including false claims that the 2020 election was rigged. Meanwhile, conservatives say Facebook and other tech companies are unfairly de-platforming right-leaning leaders, including former president Donald Trump.
A spokesperson for Facebook did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Under state law, Facebook could be hit with a $10,000 fine per violation, which could be tripled if the court finds the company’s actions were intentional.
In 2020, Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Facebook alleging the social media platform did not comply with campaign finance disclosure rules that were amended in 2019 for tech platforms. Specifically, the company was accused of neglecting to maintain in its political ad library the names of the political advertisers, the addresses of advertisers and the precise costs, dates of payments and payment methods.
That lawsuit followed one filed in 2018 that led to a consent decree that required Facebook to pay $238,000, according to Ferguson’s office. After Facebook continued to run political ads, Ferguson sued again in 2020.
After revelations that Russian operatives used social media platforms to try to influence the 2016 presidential election, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington, D.C., introduced legislation to require digital platforms to disclose more about who is buying political ads. The bill would have forced large platforms to create a political ad database with information on the groups spending money on political advertising and a description of the targeted audience. Since then, some tech platforms such as Facebook and Google have published their own ad libraries disclosing information about candidates’ marketing campaigns.
Last year, Facebook announced it would limit how political and issue advertising could be targeted, removing the ability in most cases to deliver ads to individuals based on what political, religious or health-related content they had accessed on the platform. But the company left in place other ways to tailor the audience of marketing campaigns.