Social media giant Facebook has announced that politicians will be exempt from its third-party fact-checking program, which was established to combat the spread of fake-news and other types of viral misinformation.
The company said that it did not believe it was appropriate for it to “referee” political debates and would now treat all content from politicians as newsworthy, which, as a general rule, should be seen and heard.
This means that even if a politician’s content breaks the network’s rules, Facebook will still allow it on their platform if the company believes the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm. Paid advertisements will still have to abide by the community’s rules.
However, when a politician shares previously debunked content including links, videos and photos, the platform will demote their content, display related information from fact-checkers, and reject its inclusion in advertisements.
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Facebook has not defined its parameters as to what qualifies someone as a politician. When questioned on this by the BBC, the network responded saying it did not put “strict parameters” on its definition of a politician because of global differences.
But, it told the BBC that the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson would remain banned, even though he stood as a candidate in the European elections in May.
Former Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Nick Clegg, who is currently Facebook’s vice president of communications, recently acknowledged that the company had “made mistakes in 2016” and said Russia had tried to use Facebook to interfere with the US presidential election.
He said that Facebook had spent the past three years since the election building its defences to prevent such an incident happening again by cracking down on fake accounts, expanding its team and investing heavily in AI to take down harmful content.
Facebook’s role, he said, was to “make sure there is a level playing field, not to be a political participant ourselves”.
“Freedom of expression is an absolute founding principle for Facebook,” Clegg said. “Since day one, giving people a voice to express themselves has been at the heart of everything we do. We are champions of free speech and defend it in the face of attempts to restrict it. Censoring or stifling political discourse would be at odds with what we are about.”
In the same speech, Clegg urged politicians not to break up Facebook into smaller companies.
He said: “I understand the debate about big tech companies and how to tackle the real concerns that exist about data, privacy, content and election integrity. But I firmly believe that simply breaking them up will not make the problems go away. The real solutions will only come through new, smart regulation instead.”