Nick Clegg, Facebooks chief lobbyist and a former British deputy prime minister, on Monday rejected suggestions that the company should impose limits on political ads, arguing that such measures could hurt the chances of “insurgent” politicians trying to break through.
His comments came after Twitter and Google both announced changes to how they handle these partisan ads, amid growing criticism in Europe, the United States and elsewhere that the worlds largest social network is helping to polarize electorates.
“On political ads, we have a different stance to Twitter,” Clegg told reporters during a two-day visit to Brussels where he will meet with European Commission officials as well as lawmakers from the EU Parliament. “If you look at the way in which Facebook is being used by challenger, newcomer and insurgent politicians, its an extremely important instrument by which democratic debate is enriched,” he added.
When asked if Facebook would take steps to reduce how political campaigns could target voters across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, Clegg refused to confirm reports that the tech giant was considering such a move.
“We dont want to enter into the perilous, and we believe highly inappropriate, role of being a political referee in mature democracies,” said Clegg, who was due to meet with the Commissions Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová, but not Margrethe Vestager, Europes antitrust and digital policy czar, during his time in Brussels.
“That basic scaffolding will remain the same. But of course, we will constantly look at further enhancements and improvements, and make announcements when were ready to do so,” he added.
With just weeks to go before a general election in the United Kingdom, Clegg also rebuffed criticism on both sides of the Atlantic that the company was not clamping down on the worst abusers of its services, including widespread trolling, terrorist content and political messaging that does not fully identify sponsors.
“Is it the role of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, sitting in Silicon Valley, to start entering into highly contentious claims and counter-claims of politicians?” he said. “The idea that we from Silicon Valley should be jumping in and changing every adverb or adjective or half-statistic that isnt being fully vetted, we think, would be putting us into a wholly inappropriate and excessive position of power.”
The former British politician, who joined Facebook last year as part of an overhaul of the companys dealings with policymakers in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, again called on officials to revamp rules for the digital age. Facebook is also under new pressure to check political content, with the government of Singapore last week forcing the company to post a “correction notice” on a post.
In Europe and the United States, the social network faces a series of investigations related to potential privacy revelations, competition concerns and its role within democratic elections.
Clegg said it should not be left to private companies like Facebook to determine how online content should be policed.