Nick Clegg recently talked about how Facebook's stance on political speech
(Photo : Facebook)

Facebook just can't get itself out of controversy. A recently leaked letter showed employee dissent, a first for the company. 

Facebook will not intervene with politicians' speech

A recent speech by Nick Clegg revealed that speech from politicians is not submitted to fact-checkers. "It is not our role to intervene when politicians speak," says Clegg.

Nick Clegg is Facebook's VP for Global Affairs and Communications. He was also a former UK Deputy Prime Minister, a career politician for two decades before joining Facebook.

In essence, Facebook is extending newsworthiness towards speech by politicians, which means that regardless of its content, it will be seen by people. However, speech submitted as ads will still have to follow Facebook's community guidelines.

There are limits, of course, and Clegg was clear where Facebook will be drawing the line. Although Facebook didn't invent harmful and hurtful words, says Clegg, the platform lends politicians a wider audience. "That's why we draw the line at any speech which can lead to real-world violence and harm," says Clegg.

Clegg concluded his speech by saying that it isn't suitable for Facebook to become a self-appointed referee for politician speech. Instead, Facebook will have to make sure that the platform is fair and that they offer a level-playing field for all users.

Dissent from within

Clearly, there are Facebook employees who don't agree with Clegg's statements. 

In the leaked letter, Facebook employees criticized the company's stance towards political ads. They worry that could become widespread with this policy, fearing that the company's stance will compromise their efforts towards integrity.

"Our current policies on fact-checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for," says the letter. "It doesn't protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy."

The letter then suggested changes that the employees feel would help decrease the spread of misinformation. This includes the outright banning of misinformation from the platform, as well as introducing restrictions to political ads, including the amount of money a politician could spend on the platform.

Although the letter itself was penned by a minority, its authors suggest that many people from within the company hold the same sentiments.

Déjà vu

Facebook keeps getting entangled in politics, which gave the company a whole new direction in terms of development in the past few years. A platform that used to be solely for reconnecting with old friends has become a platform for different kinds of media, including political content—eventually has become a defining and problematic theme on the platform.

In recent years, the company has been embroiled in a political scandal. In 2016, the platform was used by Russian trolls to sway the US elections. Elsewhere, the platform was used to spread misinformation.

Defense Efforts

In Facebook's defense, they have made considerable efforts to solve the problems within their platform. This includes hiring thousands of people to verify content and to develop AI that can automatically take down harmful content from their platform. 

In fact, a Stanford report found that interaction with misinformation within the platform decreased by 2/3rds since 2016. However, the fact that the elections were over by that time could also explain why misinformation became scarce.

Facebook has also revamped the way news is shared on its platform to reduce misinformation and bring more relevant stories to its users. They're also spearheading a program that aims to fight deepfakes, a new threat in deception.

Facebook's stance could see the 2016 scandal repeat itself in subsequent elections, but it has the power to prevent any of these from happening again. The letter ended positively, stating that the main reason for the letter is that they believe Facebook could be a driver for actual change.

Only time, and probably political pundits, could tell whether or not Facebook will be successful in untangling themselves from this political debacle.

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