From next week, all ads in the UK about social issues such as immigration, health and the environment will also have to go through this process. And we’re making improvements to our Ad Library, which is already being used by journalists and researchers to analyse in real time what political parties and candidates are saying and doing. These changes mean that political advertising on Facebook and Instagram is now more transparent – and can be more heavily scrutinised – than traditional forms of election campaigning, whether that’s billboards on streets corners or leaflets through letterboxes.
Third, tackling hate speech and harassment of candidates. There is, rightly, a focus in the UK about the current tone of political debate. Hate speech and threats of violence have no place on our platforms and we’re investing heavily to tackle it. More than 35,000 people now work on safety and security for Facebook and our technology is helping us to automatically detect more of this harmful content. While there is further to go, the proportion of hate speech we remove before it’s reported to us has almost tripled over the last two years. We recently introduced a dedicated reporting channel for MPs to flag any abusive and threatening content directly to our teams and this will be extended to all candidates when an election is called.
Finally, once a UK election is underway we will set up a dedicated operations centre to bring together the teams who monitor activity across our platforms. This will be an added layer of defence, helping us to more quickly remove content that breaks our rules and respond to any emerging threats or challenges.
But while we are taking a number of steps, there are many areas where it’s simply not appropriate for a private company like Facebook to be setting the rules of the game or calling the shots. For instance, we do not believe it should be our role to fact check or judge the veracity of what politicians say – not least since political speech is heavily scrutinised by the media and our democratic processes.
We agree with the likes of the DCMS committee and the Information Commissioner’s Office that we need new rules for the era of digital campaigning. UK electoral law needs to be brought into the 21st century to give clarity to everyone – political parties, candidates and the platforms they use to promote their campaigns.
What constitutes a political ad? Should all online political advertising be recorded in a public archive and should that extend to traditional platforms like billboards, direct mail and newspapers? Should anyone spending over a certain amount on political ads have to declare who their main funders are? Who, if anybody, should decide what politicians can and can’t say in their adverts? These are all questions that can only be properly decided by Parliament and regulators.
The law may not be changed before Britain goes to the polls again, but we are determined to play our part in protecting elections from interference by making our platform more secure and political advertising more transparent. While we can never say for sure that there won’t be issues in future elections, we are confident that we’re better prepared than ever.
Richard Allan is Facebook’s Vice President of Policy Solutions