Russian Watchdog Alleges Facebook Displayed Election Day Political Ads

Russia’s regional election on Sunday produced another headache for Facebook over political ads. Facebook is already in a dispute over local data storage.

Ruchi Gupta - Author

Sep. 9 2019, Updated 2:57 p.m. ET

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Russia’s regional elections on Sunday, September 8, left Facebook (FB) in a tight spot in the country. Roskomnadzor, a Russian telecom watchdog, has accused Facebook and Google (GOOGL) of breaching the country’s election laws.

According to Roskomnadzor, Facebook and Google continued to display political ads on their platforms on the country’s election day, despite being warned before the election that they shouldn’t do that.

Referring to displaying political ads on election day, RT quoted Roskomnadzor as saying, “Those actions can be viewed as interference in the sovereign affairs of Russia and obstruction of the democratic elections.”

Today, Reuters reported that Facebook denies these accusations that it interfered in Russia’s election. According to Facebook, the responsibility of complying with local election laws around political advertising lies with the advertisers.

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Russia’s election issue shows challenges in the political advertising business

Russia’s accusations highlight the challenges that Facebook continues to face in its political advertising business. After the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook, Google, and Twitter came under fire over their handling of political advertising. The companies faced accusations that they allowed Russia to run political propaganda campaigns aimed at American voters on their platforms.

In the wake of the Russia-led US election meddling accusations, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have sought to increase the transparency of political advertising on their platforms. Last month, Facebook updated its political advertising guidelines to prevent abuse of its platforms with respect to election interference. Additionally, Facebook publishes details of groups that purchase political ads on its platforms and the issues they promote.

However, Facebook still considers political advertising a challenge. As we discussed in May, Facebook at one point explored discontinuing the sales of political ads altogether.

Facebook and Russia in a dispute over local data storage

We believe that the latest Russia’s election interference accusations could add to Facebook’s challenges in the Russian market. Currently, Facebook risks fines or a ban of its operations in Russia over a dispute about local data storage. Russia’s laws require digital companies like Facebook to store its citizens’ data locally.

A few years ago, Russia banned Microsoft’s LinkedIn from operating on its soil over a similar local data storage dispute. Facebook and Twitter have several months to comply with Russia’s local data storage demands.


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