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Ahead of potential federal law, Seattle is asking Facebook for election data

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Federal law doesn’t yet require social media companies to disclose data on political ads, but Seattle is now asking Facebook and Google to send additional data on ad spending from the city’s last election. According to Reuters, the city is asking the tech companies to provide the data in accordance with a 1977 law that was previously unenforced for online ads.

The law requires that companies selling ads for the city’s elections to keep public records that show who purchased the ads, the payments and the details and extent of that ad. After social media giants were criticized following an investigation revealing Russian-paid ads during the 2016 presidential election, a Seattle-based publication pointed out the local law. The city then sent requests to both Facebook and Google for the information.

Facebook has already met with city staff and provided some data, but the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission Executive Director Wayne Barnett said that the company shared partial spending data and did not include the copies of the ads. Barnett said the group is meeting with the city’s attorney later this week to discuss additional action.

Facebook’s vice president of U.S. State and Local Policy Will Castleberry said that the company responded with relevant information and that the company supports transparency for political ads.

Google asked for additional time to gather the data, a request that is still pending approval, Reuters says.

The law details penalties of up to $5,000 for each ad.

Federal law requires radio, print and TV ads to disclose who paid for political ads, but that legislation hasn’t yet caught up with online ads. The Honest Ads Act could bring online ads under the same rules if the legislation passes. In response to the act, Facebook (along with Twitter) shared changes for more transparency in political ads, including labeling the ad with information on who paid for the ad. Facebook is first testing those features in Canada before rolling out ahead of midterm elections in the U.S. later this year. While the plan also includes a database of political ads, the new ad history feature won’t include data from before the changes were put in place, which excludes the last Seattle city election.

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