Facebook is either unwilling or unable to adhere to its own policies in a consistent and timely manner, as participants in a local election in Washington state are discovering.
The policy in question concerns a ban on political ads – but the manner in which Facebook enforces it has led to accusations of unfair treatment by a candidate whose ad campaign was previously banned.
The ban came in line with Facebook's rule not to allow political ads as a means of avoiding compliance with strict local disclosure laws. But Kate Martin, who is running for the Seattle City Council, found out that the ban did not extend to her opponent, Heidi Wills, The Stranger is reporting.
Running ads on Facebook gives a candidate advantage of wide reach and low costs, and as of press time, Wills had seven active ads, the website said, citing the tech giant's archive. But Wills also expects Facebook to catch up to its own rules and ban her ads as well. Meanwhile, she considers her actions to be “following the rules” – while Martin is describing the situation as “blatantly unfair.”
Facebook itself insists that political ads for Washington state elections are appearing “in violation of Facebook's policy.” Nevertheless, they keep appearing.
Last year, a report in The Stranger revealed that Facebook was not complying with the disclosure policy in Washington state, prompting the attorney general to sue the company, that was then forced to pay “a sizable” settlement. Then came the ban – that really isn't.
Facebook is potentially in more trouble than being called unfair by a candidate, since the ban on political ads in Washington came in a bid to avoid the state rules that call for full ad disclosure. But by allowing some ads and prohibiting others, the company is violating both its own and state rules.
Earlier in the year, Facebook and Google argued before the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission that simply declaring political ads as banned was all it took to comply with the regulation.
“A third party's illicit requisition of Google's platform to distribute an advertisement in violation of its express policies does not constitute acceptance of that advertisement by Google and does not trigger the obligation for Google to collect or provide detailed information about the ad,” Google said in a letter sent to the Commission at the time – and it remains to be seen if the regulator is convinced by such rhetoric.