Facebook user on a phone

Facebook’s changes to political ads spark concern among MPs

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Facebook has announced changes to the way political advertisements are displayed on its platform, prompting a parliamentary select committee to question its communications VP Sir Nick Clegg on how these could impact a probable forthcoming general election in the UK.

In a blog post the social media giant said the new measures were put in place ahead of the 2020 election in the US.

They include an updated policy to combat “inauthentic behaviour” as well as additional protections for the accounts of candidates and elected officials. They will also make pages more transparent, displaying the owner prominently and will make it easier to understand political ads, including a new US presidential candidate spend tracker.

But the changes have prompted the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS), Damian Collins, to question the impact of Facebook’s new policy on political ads, which includes dropping a ban on “deceptive, false or misleading content” to instead only address “claims debunked by third-party fact-checkers, or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organisations with particular expertise”.

Former deputy prime minister Clegg, who is now Facebook’s head of communications, was asked in a letter why Facebook decided to change its policy, “given the heavy constraints this will place on Facebook’s ability to combat online disinformation in the run-up to elections around the world”.

Collins notes that a website or page designed to promote the opinion or agenda of a political figure is now ineligible for fact-checking, moves which he described as “particularly concerning”.

The DCMS chair also demands to know why Facebook wants to merge its three instant messaging platforms and provide end-to-end encryption throughout, amid fears the plan could prevent child abusers and terrorists being caught.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel and her counterparts in the US and Australia outlined their fears to Mark Zuckerberg in a letter earlier this month, saying that such a move could hinder law enforcement trying to investigate child abusers and terrorists operating online.

Patel started calling for backdoors in encryption systems almost as soon she assumed her role as Home Secretary in July.

“Why can’t WhatsApp remain the only end-to-end encryption service, and what is the opinion of the Facebook Safety Team?” Collins asked.

“Have they expressed any reservations regarding the planned merger-encryption?”

Last week, Facebook’s global head of safety Antigone Davis reportedly said the social network was working on new ways to prevent online groomers from approaching children, in an attempt to allay concerns about encryption.

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