Regulatory Action Center Review - October 7, 2019   

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Welcome to FreedomWorks Foundation’s nineteenth regulatory review of 2019! Our Regulatory Action Center proudly updates you with our favorite tidbits from the swamp. We want to smash barriers between bureaucracy and the American people by delivering regulatory news straight to FreedomWorks activists. Check back in two weeks for the next edition.

1) Video of the Week: Unsurprisingly, the United States is not the first country to experience ballooning budgets and astronomical deficits. In the mid-1990’s, Canada’s debt grew to as high as 70% of GDP, similar to our current debt situation. In this weeks video, John Stossell sits down with Canadian economist David Henderson to discuss how Canada managed to tackle their debt problem by cutting government spending and reducing waste.

2) Why Is the CDC Still Fostering Potentially Deadly Confusion About Vaping and Lung Disease?: “Media outlets, following the lead of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), continue to blame recent cases of severe respiratory illnesses among vapers on "vaping" and "e-cigarettes" in general, falsely implying a link to legal nicotine products. This misinformation is fostering public confusion that may lead to more disease and death, both from smoking and from the black-market products that have been implicated in the lung disease cases.” https://reason.com/2019/09/24/why-is-the-cdc-still-fostering-potentially-deadly-confusion-about-vaping-and-lung-disease/

3) FBI using Facebook ads to gather Russian intelligence: report: “The FBI is reportedly using Facebook ads to gather intelligence on Russia, specifically targeting those who may be or know Russian spies. The FBI is running ads in the Washington, D.C., area, CNN reported on Wednesday, that direct to the FBI field office's website that describes its counterintelligence team and encourages visitors to meet "in person." https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/fbi/464069-fbi-using-facebook-ads-to-gather-russian-intelligence-report

4) Federal Court Upholds FCC Decision to Roll Back Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules: “Today, by a 2-1 vote, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided largely with the FCC, upholding the primary regulatory rollback as a valid exercise of its authority. In the nearly 200 page opinion, which is heavy on technical detail, the court wrote that while the challengers raised "numerous objections" aiming to show that the FCC's reclassification is "unreasonable," the judges found them "unconvincing." https://reason.com/2019/10/01/federal-court-upholds-fcc-decision-to-roll-back-obama-era-net-neutrality-rules/

5) Trump to issue executive order ‘protecting’ Americans from ‘Medicare for All’ campaign proposals pushed by Democrats: “The executive order, which he is scheduled to discuss at a speech in Florida later Thursday, is intended to bolster Medicare Advantage, private Medicare insurance for seniors that currently covers 22 million people, senior administration officials said on a call with reporters. The plan would also offer more affordable plan options, increase use of telehealth services and bring payments in Medicare fee-for-service program in line with payments for Medicare Advantage, officials said.” https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/03/trump-to-issue-executive-order-protecting-americans-from-medicare-for-all.html

6) Treasury to create tool to help people redeem billions in unclaimed savings bonds: “Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) on Wednesday said that the Treasury Department will create an online tool to help people redeem billions of dollars in savings bonds. About $26 billion in matured savings bonds are in the U.S. Treasury and have yet to be redeemed. Using the department's forthcoming tool, people will be able to verify against Treasury Department records if they have any savings bonds dated after 1974 that can be redeemed, Kennedy's office said in a news release.” https://thehill.com/policy/finance/464057-senator-treasury-will-create-tool-to-help-people-redeem-billions-of-dollars-in

7) Trump takes heat from right over vaping crackdown: “The Trump administration is under fire from conservative groups and some GOP lawmakers, who are pushing back over its planned crackdown on e-cigarette flavors. They say the administration is overreaching, and the flavor ban will harm small businesses, a violation of core Republican free market principles.” https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/464470-trump-takes-heat-from-right-over-vaping-crackdown


          

Facebook Ads Event Tracking Tool   

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This Facebook Ads Strategist Answers the 3 Commonly Asked Questions   

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I sat down with Chris Chung of Locate 852 to learn about ad strategy on the popular social media platform.
          

Facebook confirms Donald Trump can lie in ads, but he can't curse (FB)   

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President Donald Trump and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

  • From Sep. 25 to Oct. 1, the Trump campaign spent over $1.6 million on Facebook ads, many of which included false or misleading claims. 
  • Facebook took down one of these ads – which referred to Joe Biden as a 'b--ch' — because it violated its ad policy against profanity. 
  • The Trump campaign then revised the ad to include a debunked claim about Biden, and this ad was allowed to stay up because Facebook ads from politicians are not eligible for third-party fact-checking. 
  • Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic officials have challenged Facebook's misinformation policies, asserting that the social media platform is promoting Trump's lies, and making money by doing so. 

Donald Trump is allowed to lie in Facebook ads, but he can't curse.

In the three days after Trump's impeachment inquiry was announced on Sep. 24, the Trump campaign spent $1 million on Facebook ads, many of which included false or misleading claims. 

One of these Trump ads even referred to Joe Biden as a 'b--ch' — which violated Facebook's ad policies against profanity and was taken down upon review, a source familiar with the matter told Business Insider. 

The Trump campaign then revised the ad, updating it to include a debunked claim about Biden. It was accepted because Facebook does not submit ads from politicians for third-party fact checking.  

The ad, which ran on Facebook in a few different variations, claimed that "Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son's company," according to Facebook's ads library.  

trump biden campaign ad lie misleading

Two of Facebook's fact-checking partners — PolitiFact and Factcheck.org — had previously debunked this claim.

In its misinformation policy for ads, Facebook says that it "prohibits ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact checkers or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organizations with particular expertise." 

However, a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that ads from politicians are not eligible for third-party fact-checking review. Nick Clegg, Facebook's VP of Global Affairs and Communications, publicly announced these policies in a Facebook blog post on Sep. 24. 

In total, the Trump campaign spent over $1.6 million on Facebook ads from Sep. 25 to Oct. 1, according to Facebook's ads library (comparatively, Elizabeth Warren spent $285,000 and Biden spent $122,000 in the same period).

On Monday night, Warren challenged Facebook on the suspicious timing of its misinformation policies, calling into question a private meeting between Trump and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Sep. 19. 

 

Warren cited Judd Legum's reporting on Popular Information, which asserts that Facebook had recently changed its advertising policies on misinformation, thereby allowing Trump to lie in ads. 

But according to Facebook, its policies have not changed, and political figures have been exempt from the fact-checking process for more than a year now, depicted in its eligibility guidelines. Clegg's speech summarized as much: 

"We don't believe that it's an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician's speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny. That's why Facebook exempts politicians from our third-party fact-checking program. We have had this policy on the books for over a year now, posted publicly on our site under our eligibility guidelines. This means that we will not send organic content or ads from politicians to our third-party fact-checking partners for review."

However, it is true that Facebook recently changed the wording of its misinformation policy — instead of "Misinformation," section 13 was previously titled "Misleading or False Content" and largely governed deceptive claims and business practices. 

Facebook has moved this down to section 31 and 32 of its policies, which are now titled "Misleading Claims" and "Unacceptable Business Practices." It appears that Facebook is trying to delineate more specifically between misinformation in a public interest capacity, and misleading content in a business capacity. 

A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that these recent announcements and policy tweaks are meant to provide transparency ahead of US and global elections. 

With Trump ratcheting up his Facebook ad spending and deceitful rhetoric, the platform's policy decisions will continue to be scrutinized. And while Facebook believes it is staying impartial by doing little to regulate political speech, it may actually be helping Trump in doing so. 

Facebook does not have an envious position. Its policies are complex and difficult to understand, with countless rules and separate exceptions for advertising, original content, fact-checking, and more. 

When Facebook doesn't regulate political speech, it disregards truth and responsibility. But if Facebook did regulate political speech, it would have to devise even more complex policies, and there would be widespread complaints of bias — something it clearly does not want to deal with. 

For now, Facebook is sticking to the former. This choice has resulted in a stunning truth: the Trump campaign is paying Facebook millions of dollars to promote its lies, and this doesn't violate any of Facebook's rules.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Here's why phone companies like Verizon and AT&T charge more for extra data


          

Facebook Charged with Multiple Violations of Campaign Finance Law in Washington State   

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Regulators say Facebook has "repeatedly violated" campaign finance law. by Eli Sanders
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in DC recently. His company has just been charged with violating campaign finance law in Washington state.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in DC recently. His company has just been charged with multiple violations of campaign finance law in Washington state. Samuel Corum / Getty Images

Election regulators in Washington state filed administrative charges against Facebook on Friday, saying the tech giant has "repeatedly violated" a Washington state campaign finance law that requires transparency in local election ads.

Investigators with the state's Public Disclosure Commission brought the charges, accusing Facebook of "failing to maintain documents and books of account" that, under long-standing Washington law, must be "open for public inspection" and must provide clarity on the financing and reach of all ads that Facebook sells to influence local elections in this state.

The new regulatory move against the social media behemoth arises from a situation that appears to be unique nationally.

More than three years after Russians purchased thousands of Facebook ads as part of a plot to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, political ads on digital platforms remain largely unregulated at the federal level. A few recent efforts have been made to regulate online political ads at the state level, but Washington state is alone in having a strong law, on the books for decades, that requires Facebook and other commercial advertisers to disclose detailed information about the money behind every local political ad they sell, as well as the manner in which those ads are targeted.

Local television stations, radio stations, and newspapers have long complied with this law's requirements, but Facebook has been defying Washington state's transparency regulations for years and has even challenged this state's right to police its own elections in this realm.

Result of Stranger Complaint

Friday's charges stem from a complaint The Stranger filed with the PDC in February, after Facebook failed to respond to a request for information on 25 local political ads the company had sold since January 1, 2019.

Facebook has since sold hundreds more ads, targeting local elections all over Washington state. To date, in 2019 alone, tens of thousands of dollars have reportedly been spent on these Facebook ads by more than two dozen local campaigns and political action committees.

The group of 25 Facebook ads cited in The Stranger's February complaint, as well as the hundreds of Facebook ads sold since, were distributed by the company despite a ban on Washington election ads announced by Facebook last year in the wake of a lawsuit brought by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who said the company's ongoing political ad disclosure failures were "not legal" and had to stop.

("If they don’t [stop], they’re going to hear from us again," Ferguson said in December 2018, after his lawsuit was settled with a $238,500 payment from Facebook.)

After The Stranger demonstrated early this year that Facebook was still failing to disclose legally required data on its local political ads, and that Facebook's troubled online archive isn't meeting state transparency requirements, the PDC began looking into the issue. The agency opened a formal investigation into the matter in May.

Facebook has not yet responded to a request for comment on the PDC's decision to file charges. (See update below for a statement Facebook sent several hours after this story was posted.)

"Huge Problem"

In July, election regulators in Seattle and the state capital of Olympia described Facebook's continued sales of local political ads—despite its supposed ban on such ads—as a "huge problem" that is creating "a lot of confusion."

"What is going on at Facebook headquarters?” asked Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. "I mean, they’ve enunciated this as a policy, but it doesn’t appear that there are any resources being devoted to enforcing the policy."

Local campaigns and even a former Seattle mayor have also expressed dismay at a situation that allows some politicians access to Facebook advertising while Facebook claims to ban such ads and refuses to disclose required information about such ads when they're nevertheless sold.

“Any time you have a competitive process where some parties are essentially punished for following what they believe to be the rules, and others who are not following the rules who are benefitting, that’s a huge problem," Barnett said in July. “To me, it just shows the unworkability of Facebook’s policy. I don’t know what Facebook is doing."

In late July, after Facebook allegedly failed to provide Tallman Trask, a local digital communications strategist, with information about political ads targeting Seattle's city council elections, he filed his own complaint with the PDC. That complaint is in the "assessment of facts" stage, according to the agency.

Next Step: A Public Hearing or Another Settlement

Kim Bradford, spokesperson for the PDC, said the charges against Facebook can lead down one of two paths. Either the company now works out what would effectively be a settlement with state regulators, or it proceeds to a contested hearing before the PDC's commissioners.

Such a hearing, Bradford said, "can look much like a trial, with each side presenting evidence and questioning witnesses."

Under state rules, the PDC can fine those found to have violated campaign finance laws a maximum of $10,000 per violation—"unless parties stipulate otherwise" through an agreed settlement, Bradford said.

In this particular case, it's not clear how many distinct violations may be at issue.

The 25 Facebook ads cited in The Stranger's February complaint were sold to four different Seattle City Council campaigns and backers of one local ballot measure.

Each of the ads was displayed numerous times, and although Facebook is required to disclose information about such ads to "any person" who asks, and must do so "within twenty-four hours" of each ad's initial distribution, it has now been nearly eight months since The Stranger asked for "all the information that Facebook is legally required to disclose" about those 25 ads.

Five months after The Stranger's request, Facebook did provide some legally required information about the 25 ads to the PDC's investigators, the recently filed charging document notes. But that information was incomplete, investigators said.

For example, while Facebook revealed each ad's cost it "did not include who made the payment, when it was paid, and what method of payment was used," according to the charging document. It also failed to provide required information on the audiences targeted by each political ad.

In addition, Facebook to this day has not provided any information directly to The Stranger, even though state law says such information must be provided to those who ask, "without reference to, or permission from, the PDC."

Exactly how many individual violations of state law are contained within this nearly eight-month history of The Stranger requesting, but not being directly provided, legally required information on these 25 Facebook ads?

Bradford said that will be determined by the PDC's commissioners.


UPDATE, 3:07 pm: In an e-mailed statement, Facebook spokesperson Devon Kearns told The Stranger:

We are committed to protecting elections on Facebook and have built tools to give people more information about the ads they see, including via Facebook’s Ad Library and Ad Library Report. We are working cooperatively with the PDC in an effort to resolve this matter, and we look forward to continued productive discussions.

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