Facebook rejected calls to ban or fact-check political ads ahead of the UK's general election

mark zuckerbergFacebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, arrives to meet France's President Emmanuel Macron after the &quotTech for Good" Summit at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, May 23, 2018.Associated Press/Francois Mori

  • Facebook has rejected calls to ban political ads on its platform ahead of a general election in the UK on December 12.
  • The company told journalists on Thursday that it wanted to allow politicians and candidates to speak to voters through paid ads - and that it won't fact-check their claims.
  • The firm is under pressure to ban political ads altogether and has been criticized for its stance of not fact-checking claims made by politicians in ads.
  • Facebook said politicians won't be permitted to spread hate speech or incite violence through ads, but they would be able to make misleading claims or lie outright in keeping with its current policies.
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Facebook rejected calls to ban political ads on its platform ahead of a UK general election on December 12.

The firm said it had considered banning political ads, which it says account for a tiny fraction of its revenue. And a coalition of academics and activists wrote an open letter to Facebook on Monday, asking the firm to consider banning political ads altogether.

But ultimately Facebook representatives argued that it isn't up to a private company to police politicians' ads.

In a call with UK reporters on Thursday, UK policy chief Rebecca Stimson said: "As [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg has said, we have considered whether we should ban political ads altogether. They account for just 0.5% of our revenue and they're always destined to be controversial.

"But we believe it's important that candidates and politicians can communicate with their constituents and would-be constituents."

Stimson alluded to a decision by Twitter to ban political ads from its platform altogether. The issue, she said, was defining what counts as a political ad.

She said: "If you were to consider banning political ads, where do you draw the line - for example, would anyone advocate for blocking ads for important issues like climate change or women's empowerment?"

Stimson's remarks come as Facebook comes under growing pressure for its stance on political ads. The firm said in September that it wouldn't fact-check claims made by politicians and candidates in online ads - essentially meaning they can lie with impunity. Facebook says it shouldn't censor politicians as a private company, and that it is up to the media to debunk political lies, and up to voters to make up their minds.

But critics worry that politicians and candidates may be able to spread misinformation or lies in highly targeted ads that are not easily visible to the media. Facebook says it stores all ads in a dedicated and searchable ads library, with information about who has run an ad and how much they have spent.

Dominic CummingsGetty

How British candidates and political parties are using online advertising for election campaigning is under close scrutiny. That's partly because a key Johnson aide, Dominic Cummings, is a noted enthusiast for digital ad spending, using it to great effect while he ran the Vote Leave campaign to leave the European Union in 2016.

The BBC has already discovered an ad run by a former aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson which broke Facebook's ad rules. The ad derided the Labour Party's tax plans, but was banned by Facebook because it didn't disclose who paid for it.

Facebook said it had set up dedicated teams across Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram to keep the UK election safe from foreign interference, another possible risk. The firm said it had not yet found evidence of any foreign interference in the election process.

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