Speaking at the Atlantic Festival in Washington DC, Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook, set out the measures that Facebook is taking to prevent outside interference in elections and Facebook’s attitude towards political speech on the platform.

Facebook believes that free expression and respect for the democratic process, as well as the fact that in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is. 

Fact-Checking Political Speech

Facebook now uses third-party fact-checkers to help reduce the spread of false news and other types of viral misinformation, like memes or manipulated photos and videos. However, Clegg believes 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.

That’s why Facebook has decided to exempt politicians from their third-party fact-checking program. Facebook has had this policy on the books for over a year now, which is posted publicly on their site under their eligibility guidelines.

This means that Facebook will not send organic content or ads from politicians to their third-party fact-checking partners for review. However, when a politician shares previously debunked content including links, videos and photos, Facebook plans to demote that content, display related information from fact-checkers, and reject its inclusion in advertisements.

Newsworthiness Exemption

Facebook has had a newsworthiness exemption since 2016. This means that if someone makes a statement or shares a post which breaks Facebook’s community standards, Facebook will still allow it on the platform if they believe the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm.

Clegg announced that from now on Facebook will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard. However, in keeping with the principle that Facebook applies different standards to content for which they receive payment, this will not apply to ads – if someone chooses to post an ad on Facebook, they must still fall within Facebook’s Community Standards and our advertising policies.

When Facebook makes a determination as to newsworthiness, they evaluate the public interest value of the piece of speech against the risk of harm. When balancing these interests, they take a number of factors into consideration, including country-specific circumstances, like whether there is an election underway or the country is at war; the nature of the speech, including whether it relates to governance or politics; and the political structure of the country, including whether the country has a free press.

In evaluating the risk of harm, Facebook will consider the severity of the harm. Content that has the potential to incite violence, for example, may pose a safety risk that outweighs the public interest value. Each of these evaluations will be holistic and comprehensive in nature and will account for international human rights standards.