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Facebook Defends Political Ads Stance in U.K. Election Battle

Joe Mayes

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. defended its policy of not fact-checking political advertising in the U.K. general election, saying it wasn’t a matter for a private company to police political speech.

Asked whether Facebook would have allowed the U.K. Conservative Party to run a recently doctored video of an interview with a senior Labour lawmaker as an advertisement -- a video that was widely criticized for being misleading -- Facebook said yes.

“Political parties and political candidates are not subject to our fact-checking rules,” said Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s head of U.K. public policy, saying it was the role of the media and public to debate such issues. “What the Conservative Party put in that advert has been the subject of ferocious public discussion,” she said, speaking on a call with reporters.

The U.S. tech giant has held a strong line against intervening in political ads, unlike rival platform Twitter Inc. which recently banned them. Facebook has come under pressure for the stance and company employees have said the policy runs counter to the fight against election misinformation that plagued the site in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, speaking Thursday at Bloomberg’s “The Year Ahead” conference in New York, said the social-media company will face “a massive test” in the U.S. elections next year.

In a bid to clean up elections, Facebook has introduced features to improve transparency, such as providing data on the amount spent by political parties and who is seeing their ads. Facebook has also worked to shut down fake accounts that seek to artificially boost political campaigns.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Mayes in London at jmayes9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Penty at rpenty@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack

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