Facebook Announces It Will Not Be Submitting Content From Politicians To Independent Fact Checking

In a Facebook Newsroom post by Nick Clegg, Facebook VP of Global Affairs and Communication, the social network announced on Monday that it will not submit speech by politicians to its new independent fact checkers, and "generally allow it on the platform even when it would otherwise breach our normal content rules."

The announcement was made at Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C., where the company elucidated measures it's taking to prevent outside electoral interference during the upcoming 2020 election cycle. The company also spoke about its general current attitude about political speech on the platform while maintaining its commitment to "Facebook's fundamental belief in free expression and respect for the democratic process," Clegg added.

Other measures the website will undertake to ensure there will be no electoral interference include cracking down on fake accounts and expanding its staff by 30,000 people.

Also included in the statement, Clegg said that Facebook relies on independent fact checkers to reduce the viral spread of misinformation, including manipulated photos and videos and memes. It will also tighten its rules on political ads.

There will be a specific measure used to combat deepfakes—using computer graphics to create convincing fake videos and audio of celebrities and politicians saying things they didn't. The Deepfake Detection Challenge, which will include a partnership with companies like Microsoft and universities like MIT, Berkeley and Oxford to create technology to uncover deepfakes.

But, Clegg added, he didn't believe that it's "an appropriate role for [Facebook] to referee political debates and prevent a politician's speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny," which is why politicians have been exempt from this independent fact checking policy. This included ads submitted by politicians and organic content posted by politicians to their Facebook pages.

This exemption has been in place for over a year, according to Clegg's speech, and is now posted in Facebook's public eligibility guidelines.

A stock image of Facebook's front page. Facebook just announced a policy intended to combat election interference, but refuses to submit politicians to its factchecking procedures unless they spread content that has already been determined to be false. ALASTAIR PIKE/Getty

There is an exception to this policy. According to Clegg, "when a politician shares previously debunked content including links, videos and photos, we plan to demote that content, display related information from fact-checkers, and reject its inclusion in advertisements."

There is a second exemption for newsworthiness, which Facebook has had in place since 2016.

"I know some people will say we should go further," Clegg said in his speech, "that we are wrong to allow politicians to use our platform to say nasty things or make false claims. But imagine the reverse."

"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."

Facebook determines this exemption by "evaluat[ing] the public interest value of the piece of speech against the risk of harm." The balancing of these interests involve country-specific circumstances—for example, whether the country is at war or involved in an election.

The social media platform will also look at the nature of the speech at hand as it relates to governance, and the political structure of the country—including whether or not the country has a free press.

The severity of harm will also be weighed, as well as the statement's potential to incite a safety risk that "outweighs the public interest value." Clegg vowed that each of these measures will be made "holistically".