Facebook has decided to allow fake ads by political candidates in the UK, extending the policy from the United States. They are not going to fact-check ads by British political parties and the thousands of candidates running for the House of Commons. Ads from other political groups, like the pro-Brexit Leave.EU, will be subjected to fact-checking, which was confirmed by Facebook.
Just Fake It
Reported by CNN, this same policy in the United States has led to backlashes from Democratic candidates, Congress and even some of those employed by Facebook itself. Even Facebook's rival in Silicon Valley, Twitter, has announced that it is not accepting political ads next month. YouTube, which is owned by Google, has allowed the Trump campaign to run a false ad. Google did not respond to a request for comment on Friday regarding its policies for the British election.
Something Changed His Mind
A conservative member of Parliament, Damian Collins, who had been at the forefront of the parliamentary hearings on Facebook, told CNN Business Friday the following: "People shouldn't be able to spread disinformation during election campaigns just because they are paying Facebook to do so." After the referendum in 2016, Clegg, who wanted to remain in the EU, said "the colossal scale of the lies spread by the Leave campaign" really bothered him. After joining Facebook in 2018, he changed his tune completely, saying he believes Facebook should not be responsible for fact-checking politicians.
The policy has been in place in the United States for about a year, and Clegg reignited the issue in a speech in Washington D.C. last September stating, "Would it be acceptable to society at large to have a private company in effect become a self-appointed referee for everything that politicians say? I don't believe it would be. In open democracies, voters rightly believe that, as a general rule, they should be able to judge what politicians say themselves."
We Don't Feel Like It
Facebook has confirmed that it will stop politicians from running ads that directly link to content that has already been verified as false by its fact-checkers. However, if politicians repeat false information themselves, it will be allowed. The December 12 UK election will be one of the first instances that this policy will be tested in a major election in an English-speaking country.
The UK continues to stumble over itself, attempting to leave the European Union, with two Conservative Prime Ministers in a row – Theresa May and Boris Johnson – failing to get a Brexit deal through a very fractured Parliament. Whoever gets elected to Parliament will shape Brexit, or possibly determine if it even comes to pass.
In addition to all of this Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, head of the Reuterse Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University has said to CNN Business, "I think it's important to recognize that Facebook has a lot to answer for and it's important we look critically at what they do and what they enable. But it's also really, really important we recognize that British politicians have done nothing to change the rules of the game despite all the shortcomings we have documented on how those rules have worked in recent elections."