Eli Sanders Profile picture
Sep 2 17 tweets 3 min read
BREAKING: A Washington State judge just ruled that Facebook intentionally and repeatedly violated a state political ad disclosure law that's been on the books for 50 years.

Facebook wanted the law declared unconstitutional. "The law is very constitutional," the judge said.
In addition to arguing that Washington State's political ad disclosure law violates the First Amendment, Facebook (now Meta) had argued that Washington's rules violate federal law (specifically CDA 230).

Judge North found Facebook's argument to be "a misapplication of the law."
“I don’t find that Meta’s argument on CDA 230 is persuasive," Judge North said from the bench.

CDA 230, the judge said, "is directed at something different"—for ex., shielding platforms from civil defamation lawsuits.

"This is a different matter that has to do with disclosure."
Having ruled that Washington State's unique political ad transparency law is constitutional, and having found that Facebook intentionally and repeatedly violated that law, Judge North will next consider (at a future date) fines and a potential injunction requiring FB to comply.
One thing Judge North appeared particularly focused on: the age of Washington's disclosure law, which was first enacted by voter initiative in 1972.

When an attorney for FB/Meta claimed WA's rules are a national outlier without "a long track-record," Judge North interrupted him.
“But the law does have a long history outside of digital platforms," Judge North told the lawyer for Facebook. "I mean, we’ve been doing this for 50 years with radio, TV, etc.”

This was a point made repeatedly by lawyers for Washington State: Other mediums comply. Why can't FB?
Another thing Judge North appeared to focus on:

This case, now more than two years old, has established that Facebook *did have in its possession* all the data about political ad money trails and targeting that Washington State law required the company to disclose.
“In essence, the only reason why Meta refuses to comply with the law is, to put it colloquially, they don’t want the public to see how the sausage is made,” Judge North said. "Because..."
“Because it’s a very lucrative business to Meta," Judge North continued. "And if they’ve got to reveal that information there may be less of it and they make less money."
The judge also rejected Facebook's argument that it's too burdensome for the company to collect, sort, and disclose all the data needed to comply with Washington State's political ad transparency rules.
“They," meaning Facebook employees, "necessarily collect [that data] in order to be able to run the ads they are running," Judge North said. "All they have to do in order to be able to display it is essentially press a button.”
(Later in the hearing, Facebook's attorney specifically disputed Judge North's "press a button" contention.)
Facebook's attorney repeatedly pointed out that the company decided to ban political ads in Washington State to avoid the state's disclosure law.

But Judge North called FB's measure “a ban you could drive a Mack truck through, since they’re not trying to enforce it.”
In sum, Judge North did not buy any of Facebook's major arguments.

"Everything," the judge said, "starts out with, 'We can’t comply with this.'" But, Judge North continued, "There is no attempt to analyze whether they really could comply with it."
In contrast, Judge North said that “public disclosure laws serve one of the fundamental interests that underly the First Amendment, and that is transparency.”

He called transparency “essential part of democracy.”
To end where we started—but with the full quote—Judge North, in upholding Washington State's unique political ad transparency law against Facebook's attempt to strike it down, said:

"This is clearly a very appropriate subject for disclosure, and the law is very constitutional."

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More from @elijsanders

Apr 14, 2020
NEW: Washington state sues Facebook for "repeatedly violating" campaign finance law
The lawsuit, filed by @BobFergusonAG, alleges Facebook broke the law by failing to disclose required details about the money trails behind hundreds of local political ads that targeted Washington state's elections in 2019.
This is the second time in two years that the Washington State Attorney General has filed suit against Facebook in a case that grew out of reporting by @TheStranger.
Read 4 tweets
Oct 31, 2019
Both @karaswisher and @jack are calling attention to how Mark Zuckerberg conflates "free speech" with paid speech as he defends Facebook's hands-off approach to lies in political ads.

We have seen this conflation before in Washington state.
It happened just over a year ago, as Facebook and Google lobbyists were trying to weaken Washington state's strong disclosure laws regarding online political ads that target local elections. (Mayor, city council, school board, etc.)

In September of 2018, Facebook and Google lobbyists told local regulators that Washington's tough disclosure requirements for online political ads could have "a stifling effect on free speech."

At the time, I noted:
Read 19 tweets
Dec 20, 2018
Washington state is about to become the first place in the U.S. where Facebook and Google won't sell local election ads. How'd that happen? A thread:

It begins decades ago, before the internet existed—before Mark Zuckerberg was even alive.

In 1972, amid disgust at Nixon-era corruption, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved a law bringing daylight to the financing of political campaigns.

This landmark transparency law requires campaigns in Washington state *and* the companies that sell local political advertising to make significant disclosures to the public.

If that sounds like a wild idea, it's not.
Read 17 tweets

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