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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, investigative reporter Judd Legum revealed that Facebook had quietly changed the language of its advertising policies to make it easier for politicians to spread false and misleading information via political ads. The change came following an earlier pledge by one of Facebook’s top policy executives to impose “more stringent rules” against political ads that spread misinformation.

Facebook’s original policy on the matter maintained that “ads, landing pages, and business practices must not contain deceptive, false, or misleading content, including deceptive claims, offers, or methods."

Within the past week, Facebook changed this language to state that it only “prohibits ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact-checkers or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organizations with particular expertise.” But in a Facebook Newsroom post, the company said that it would not submit any political ads to fact-checkers for vetting — in essence, allowing deceptive ads to be posted. 

Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:

“Facebook’s ‘newsworthy’ exemption and ad policies are broken if the company is allowing its platform to be a vector for misinformation in the lead-up to the 2020 election. The company has learned nothing from 2016, when it allowed malicious foreign actors to use the platform to influence the U.S. election. By profiting off politicians selling false statements to the public, Facebook is complicit in the erosion of our civic health, discourse and democracy. The company should show some courage and stand up for the truth — at least in its advertising policies.”

The online platform is in the midst of an extensive public-relations campaign to repair its reputation: Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission levied a $5-billion fine against the company for allowing users' personal information to find its way into the hands of political-data firm Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica then used this data on behalf of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign to target misleading political ads to millions of Facebook users.

According to Legum’s reporting, Trump’s 2020 campaign launched a new ad on Facebook, that includes a claim that Facebook-approved third-party fact-checkers ruled false. “On the surface, such an ad appears to violate Facebook's rules against false content in ads,” Legum writes. “But Facebook quietly amended its policy on ‘misinformation’ in advertising, allowing it to accept nearly any political ad, including this new one from the Trump campaign.”

Last week, Facebook VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg made the controversial announcement that it will treat “speech from politicians as newsworthy content.” As such, this speech won’t be subject to the company’s “community standards” prohibiting posts that promote hateful activities, spread dangerous misinformation or target individuals or groups based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.

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