Facebook Inc. is pledging greater transparency about who’s behind election-related ads online.  But, for years, the company fought to avoid it, reports Bloomberg, which added that since 2011, “Facebook has asked the Federal Election Commission for blanket exemptions from political advertising disclosure rules — transparency that could have helped it avoid the current crisis over Russian ad spending ahead of the 2016 U.S. election.

“Communications law requires traditional media like TV and radio to track and disclose political ad buyers. The rule doesn’t apply online, an exemption that’s helped Facebook’s self-serve advertising business generate hundreds of millions of dollars in political campaign spots. When the company was smaller, the issue was debated in some policy corners of Washington. Now that the social network is such a powerful political tool, with more than 2 billion users, the topic is at the center of a debate about the future of American democracy.
“Back in 2011, Facebook argued for the exemption for the same reasons as internet search giant Google: its ads are too small and have a character limit, leaving no room for language saying who paid for a campaign, according to documents on the FEC’s website. Some FEC commissioners agreed, while others argued that Facebook could provide a clickable web link to get more information about the ad.
“Facebook wouldn’t budge. It warned that FEC proposals for more political ad disclosure could hinder free speech in a 2011 opinion written by Marc Elias, a high-powered Democratic lawyer who later became general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Colin Stretch, a top Facebook lawyer, said the agency “should not stand in the way of innovation,” and warned that such rules would quickly become obsolete.

“When it came time for the FEC to decide in June 2011, the agency’s six commissioners split on a 3-3 vote. Facebook didn’t get its exemption, so an advertiser using its platform was still subject to a 2006 ruling by the FEC requiring disclosure. But the company allowed ads to run without those disclaimers, leaving it up to ad buyers to comply.”

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