Another Election Story Spiked on Social Media? Twitter Is Fined Over Campaign Finance Law Violations

FILE - This Oct. 26, 2016 file photo shows a Twitter sign outside of the company's headquarters in San Francisco. Facebook and other social platforms have been waging a fight against online misinformation and hate speech for two years. With the U.S. midterm elections coming soon on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, there are signs that they're making some headway, although they're still a long way from winning the war. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Interesting when the platform seeking to police political speech is found guilty of violating election laws. 

With so much focus on the New York Post story on Hunter Biden and how that is being squelched by the social media platforms, there happens to be another election story Twitter is not enthusiastic about getting spread around. It ends up that the social media platform has been found guilty for campaign financial violations on its own. Who wants to guess how much effort will go towards silencing that detail?

 The Attorney General in the state of Washington made the announcement on Tuesday that Twitter was found to be in violation of that state’s campaign finance laws, and would be served a fine of $100,000 for refusing to disclose properly its records regarding the income it collected from candidates. What is revealing is the timing of events surrounding the matter.

Twitter unlawfully failed to maintain for public inspection records about Washington political ads that ran on its platform from 2012 until Nov. 22, 2019. On that date, Twitter implemented a ban on all political advertising. The judgment, filed today in King County Superior Court, asserts that at least 38 Washington candidates and committees reported paying $194,550 for political advertising on Twitter’s platform since 2012, and Twitter unlawfully failed to maintain the required records for those ads. 

It bears re-mentioning, November 22 was when Twitter began its pledge that it would no longer accept advertising for political campaigns. The interesting detail in this is the worker from the state’s Public Disclosure Commission petitioned Twitter for their records just ahead of this announced ban on political ads. It was just about one year ago in October 2019. The state commission that oversees such matters reached out to Twitter management with a request for the required records.

They required documents regarding payment made to the social media giant involving payments it received from a dozen Washington political candidates. When those records were not provided the AG Office looked into the matter that ultimately came to involve 38 candidates, over the span of seven years, or so. What is interesting in all of this is the timing of the probe, and then Twitter’s decision to forego political advertising.

The investigation was provoked when a University of Washington law student working for the commission requested information on those twelve candidates from Twitter. When the media company failed to provide these documents, that student filed a complaint with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, on October 30, 2019. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey went public with the announcement of curtailing all political advertising on the platform — on the exact same day.

By this summer the commission had still not received the requested documentation from the company and passed the issue to the Attorney General’s Office. The judgement was filed on October 9. What is very telling is how all the timing works out. After years with little problem the moment an investigation into the laws not being followed Twitter announces a comprehensive ban on political ads. That this appears to have been spurred by a case within a single state it becomes a curious issue to see if this is more widespread of a problem across the country for Twitter.