On Monday, Washington state’s attorney general announced a lawsuit that would take Google and Facebook to task for advertisements that affected political elections. Three days later, Google has revealed that it will rescind ads that could potentially affect Washington’s state and local elections.
As Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson notes in his press release, advertisers are required to be transparent with users about who’s paying for the ads they’re seeing. The law also requires that advertisers collect information on those purchasing the ads — like the address of who’s sponsoring the advertising, the name of the candidate they support, who paid for it (which could be different from who’s sponsoring it) and more. According to the attorney general, both companies lack the proper transparency and didn’t collect enough information when needed.
Google and Facebook have received payments totaling $1.5 million and $3.4 million, respectively, from candidates and political committees in Washington state over the last 10 years, Ferguson noted. Advertising is the main source of revenue for both companies. Just three months into 2018, Facebook had raked in over $11.7 billion while Google made $26.6 billion in the same amount of time.
Google’s decision to halt ads in this case doesn’t brutally wreck the company. Considering how quickly both companies rake in billions, $1.5-$3.4 million is relatively little. Revenue aside, it’s likely hard for Google to ignore the blow-back Facebook faced during their fake news debacle. Along with inaccurate headlines finding their way into Facebook newsfeeds, the sheer amount of data the social network has from its members has allowed Facebook’s advertising partners to appeal to users’ likes and biases. Naturally, the two combined to effectively influence an election.
So can we expect Facebook to withdraw its ads too? Don’t hold your breath.
While Google will cease running ads to avoid causing any trouble, Facebook may be looking to go the other way. Even before the Washington lawsuit, Facebook announced in April that it would support the Honest Ads Act. According to Facebook, the company would become more transparent about who paid for a specific ad, the campaign budget of the ad buyer and other specific information. Facebook first agreed to back the bill that required social media sites to disclose who purchased an ad days before Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing.
The company is expanding its transparency efforts further, according to a statement from Facebook’s director of product management Rob Leathern sent via a spokesperson.
“Soon we’ll show all ads a Page is currently running, not just political,” Leathern said. “Attorney General Ferguson has raised important questions and we look forward to resolving this matter with his office quickly.”
Additionally, along with being more transparent about who pays for an ad, the company is hiring thousands of moderators dedicated to reviewing political ads in time for elections in 2018.
While Facebook has yet to address the lawsuit, its actions prove that it’s readying itself, and everyone, for a world where online ads and political elections can coexist in harmony.