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Seattle Finds Facebook in Violation of City Campaign Finance Law (reuters.com) 106

Seattle's election authority said on Monday that Facebook is in violation of a city law that requires disclosure of who buys election ads, the first attempt of its kind to regulate U.S. political ads on the internet. From a report: Facebook must disclose details about spending in last year's Seattle city elections or face penalties, Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said in a statement. The penalties could be up to $5,000 per advertising buy, Barnett said, adding that he would discuss next steps this week with Seattle's city attorney.
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Seattle Finds Facebook in Violation of City Campaign Finance Law

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I like this

  • by elcor ( 4519045 ) on Monday February 05, 2018 @05:44PM (#56073153)
    They're cutting the balls of Facebook, passing a law to cut the balls of Apple's inbuilt obsolescence, have native Indian tribes controlling most of the forests. Yep i like Washington state Too bad about those blue scanners tracking cars on the 405. Now they need to cut the balls off microsoft who installed those.
    • What scanners are you talking about? I don't venture down there too often.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        He's talking about the HOV hot lanes where you can pay to drive in them if you are not carpooling. It has absolutely nothing to do with Microsoft.

        Indian tribes control very, very little of the forests too. The vast majority of forest land in WA is owned by the Department of Natural Resources, not the tribes. Reservation land owned by the tribes is very small:
        http://www.indian-ed.org/resources/tribal-directory-map/

    • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Monday February 05, 2018 @07:25PM (#56073811) Homepage

      You know, it's funny: before Trump was elected, it was all about piling power upon power into the federal government. We can't have everyone consulting state and local governments every time they want to do something, too burdensome. Inefficient. Moreover the people at the federal level are smarter and better at their jobs. They have advanced degrees from better schools. Who has Seattle got? People with degrees from State U?

      Then overnight, it went to inefficient burdensome regulations written by the poorly educated for everyone. Suddenly it was good? You realize one of Trump's "things" is that we don't need a federal government to do everything and state & local governments can do for themselves? You're just falling for his con man act. I thought you were smarter than that. Resist!

      • You know, it's funny: before Trump was elected, it was all about piling power upon power into the federal government. We can't have everyone consulting state and local governments every time they want to do something, too burdensome. Inefficient. Moreover the people at the federal level are smarter and better at their jobs. They have advanced degrees from better schools. Who has Seattle got? People with degrees from State U?

        Then overnight, it went to inefficient burdensome regulations written by the poorly educated for everyone. Suddenly it was good? You realize one of Trump's "things" is that we don't need a federal government to do everything and state & local governments can do for themselves? You're just falling for his con man act. I thought you were smarter than that. Resist!

        When the federal government is failing, the local government takes the necessary measures to protect the population. Still, that's a government failure and it is not something to rejoice about.

    • I want highway neutrality!!!!! The great irony is that 405 is a complete physical example of not having net neutrality.
  • Wow, the petty-cash will not even get a dent.

  • Facebook is guilty of so much... if they were even fairly prosecuted for half of it they'd have to shut down the company.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... cannibalizing each other.

    No surprise - it's how things always end when pretense of care for people is used as a route to power.

    Why? Because power is the real end game, not people.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 05, 2018 @06:08PM (#56073373)

    The law went unenforced against tech companies until a local newspaper, The Stranger, published a story in December in the wake of the Russia allegations asking why.

    It's ironic because, in both of Obama's campaigns he claimed to get the majority of his fundraising from individual credit card donations and many people pointed out that nobody could track the source of the money wondering if that was in violation of campaign finance laws.

    Nobody bothered investigating that.

    OTOH, California and Washington refused to provide information to Trump's election investigation too because they felt they had a right to ignore laws they detest. Perhaps Facebook and Google should do the same and cite to the courts this same rationale.

  • For the big Giants of the internet the last thing they want is established precedent where a metro municipal code drives the practice of national or global content.

    Expect Facebook to fight back with amicus briefs from every major content provider weighing in on thier side.

    This would be a quixotic foray for Seattle, and a phyrric victory the best possible outcome.

    • It's one of the things that companies tend to forget when it comes to the internet laws aren't the same everywhere. As an advertising company that targets local ads they should be aware of the laws in places that they target. When it comes to Seattle and the disclosure of advertising in their local elections this isn't global or national content we are talking about it's advertising that is targeting the Seattle residents of voting age in a local matter. Other businesses whether local or multinational still

    • For the big Giants of the internet the last thing they want is established precedent where a metro municipal code drives the practice of national or global content.

      Do YOU want national or global content controlled by a metro municipal code? Remember, lots of things are illegal someplace.

      • FB sells geographically targeted advertising. It would not be unreasonable to bar them from selling ads that target Seattle. Essentially saying, do whatever you want in other cities, but you are not free to do business in our city.

        Now whether that is desirable public policy is a whole different question.

        • FB sells geographically targeted advertising.

          Wouldn't it be nice if "the Internet" provided instantly available absolutely correct location information about every person who visits your website, at the granularity necessary to know which town they are in? (That's "street address level", in case you were wondering.) Would that be nice? You get content controlled by local municipalities AND location tracking in one package.

          I just love going to websites that want to access "your location data", which none of the browsers I use actually has to begin wit

          • You're making this *way* harder than it needs to be. FB is an advertising company. They sell advertising products that are targeted to specific cities. A customer says to FB something along the lines of, "doodz, I wanna like sell shoes to people in like Seattle, hook me up!" And Facebook can reply, "Sorry sir, local laws in the city of Seattle prohibit us from selling advertisements targeted to that city. Maybe you would like to buy an ad for Portland instead?"

            No need for absolute certainty about a use

            • A customer says to FB something along the lines of, "doodz, I wanna like sell shoes to people in like Seattle, hook me up!" And Facebook can reply, "Sorry sir, local laws in the city of Seattle prohibit us from selling advertisements targeted to that city.

              And what does FB say when someone says they want to advertise their shoes nationwide? "Sorry, we can't accept your ad because Seattle doesn't allow shoe ads." Ok, can I advertise suspenders? "Nope, Kansas City has laws against suspender ads."

              You're looking at this like someone is always going to target their ads at a specific city. They aren't. In fact, if someone knows their ad is banned in that city and they want to get the message through anyway, they'll just not say it is targeted at that city. (I gav

              • And what does FB say when someone says they want to advertise their shoes nationwide? "Sorry, we can't accept your ad because Seattle doesn't allow shoe ads." Ok, can I advertise suspenders? "Nope, Kansas City has laws against suspender ads."

                You're looking at this like someone is always going to target their ads at a specific city. They aren't. In fact, if someone knows their ad is banned in that city and they want to get the message through anyway, they'll just not say it is targeted at that city. (I gave an example in another post already.) And FB isn't going to know that the user is in any specific city, so they can't stop users from seeing ads based on their location.

                It is harder than you think it is. That's why you think I'm making it harder than it has to be.

                Let's roll back for a minute. The actual issue in Seattle now is disclosure about campaign advertisement spending. So we're both kind of barking up the wrong tree talking about banning ads.

                Anyways, this is a pretty narrow class of advertisements. I think from television there is quite a bit of existing law about how to tell what is and is not a campaign ad subject to the disclosure laws.

                Just because FB is a nationwide company headquartered out of state, should it be exempt from campaign finance disclosur

                • Just because FB is a nationwide company headquartered out of state, should it be exempt from campaign finance disclosure laws?

                  Yes, absolutely! Anyone with no physical presence in a given jurisdiction ought to have zero obligation to follow that jurisdiction's rules. The location of the user of the service should be irrelevant. The local government can try regulating the users and intermediaries within their jurisdiction directly if they have a problem with people accessing an outside service. Of course, there will probably be a certain amount of political fallout should the Seattle government attempt to ban access to Facebook with

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Block all internet in Seattle.

    • If you force most people to choose between Amazon & MS or Facebook, I'm not sure Seattle's the one that gets cut off.

    • Well, we have laws about political campaign finance. They vary widely from state to state. I can't speak to Washington, but when I ran for office a couple years ago I had to take a half day class from the Secretary of State's office here in Colorado.

      For example, it's illegal for a foreigner to contribute to the political campaign of somebody running for office in Colorado. That contribution doesn't need to be in cash. It could be "in kind", which would include pretty much anything other than money. Like adv

      • Of course it is about content. More precisely it is about protecting the incumbents from outside challengers. For example, that half day you spent in that class in order to run for office provides just the first barrier to entry. In order to understand that the point of campaign finance laws is to protect incumbents all you have to do is look at the rate at which incumbents win re-election...every time a new campaign finance law is passed, the chance that the incumbent will lose the election goes down. The
  • Too bad it doesn't include jail time for senior execs

    • by Altrag ( 195300 )

      Why would it? Major companies like FB run into issues like this all the time. Not even they have the resources it takes to ensure they're in compliance with every bylaw in every jurisdiction they service around the entire world. This is a big nothingburger that wouldn't even make the 17th page news if it was anyone other than Facebook involved. I mean its not like Russia gives a shit who the mayor of Seattle is in the same way they're interested in who POTUS is. Never mind the fact that there isn't (as

  • by IcyWolfy ( 514669 ) on Monday February 05, 2018 @07:04PM (#56073695) Homepage

    Because the Internet exists no-where, one can easily argue that it exists everywhere.

    And this is how countries start applying national laws to international companies who have an Internet Presence in their country.
    And that presence is the consumer viewing or interacting with the website primarily, a company office secondarily.

    So, with all the countries (rightfully) applying basic national laws to anyone providing a service to their residences leads to the next step:
    These companies have a presence in, and should be following all the laws for sub-national political entities.

    The US has started this by having internet companies follow broad laws at the state level. Which is usually fairly homogeneous.
    However, even smaller localities have a legitimate claim to apply their laws to services being offered to their residents, since the point of interaction is physically at the consumers terminal.

    The rhetoric from a decade ago "How can you follow all the laws for all the countries who can view your content?", turned out to be: You simply provide a different experience to each geographic region. And follow the laws required.

    This will get exponentially more difficult once all the localities start to realise that they need to apply their laws to all entities, or start doing the TV thing and black-out regions.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday February 05, 2018 @07:15PM (#56073767)

    For disclosing the financing behind a political ad? If I buy TV time or space on a billboard for a political ad, it's up to me to place some identifying information within the ad. The media owners may have no idea who is behind the advertisement. Because more often than not, the space in the media is purchased through an ad agency or other intermediary.

    Now, if Seattle determines that some ad isn't within compliance of an election law, they can serve Facebook with a warrant to find out who pays for that account. But Facebook has no way of determining in advance to what use I am putting my pages. I might be using it to promote my favorite pizza place or microbrewery. It's not up to Facebook to track that in advance. They may not even have the expertise to evaluate ads for political content.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      They don't need to know in advance. But if it's a political ad they need to reveal who paid for it.

      How to identify something as a political ad is an entirely different problem.

    • Yeah, you probably need to bone up on campaign finance law.

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