Nick Clegg pledges fake news and political ad crackdown in Facebook debut speech

Clegg said the new approach would boost Facebook's ongoing 'rapid response efforts to fight misinformation'

Ex-deputy UK prime minister and Facebook's global head of comms, Nick Clegg, has used his first public speech in his Silicon Valley role to detail how the social network will clampdown on political misinformation and inappropriate content.

Following on from a challenging year for Facebook, in which it faced off the Cambridge Analytica scandal; a hack which compromised the data of at least 50 million accounts; and questions from global governments over its role in the spread of misinformation and fake news, Clegg said that under his watch Facebook will double down on tackling political misinformation within its four walls.

In an address to European lawmakers in Brussells today (28 January), the Liberal Democrat leader-turned comms boss clarified that Facebook's political ad transparency tool – which aims to prevent "bad actors" by asking people buying a political ad to verify their age and location – will begin vetting political advertisers in Europe from March.

The feature has already been rolled out in the UK and the US, but it faced teething problems after jouralists from Vice and Business Insider exposed how it was open to abuse after using 'Isis' and 'Cambridge Analytica' as the organisaions buying ads.

Following some tweaks, the ad archive (or library in the UK), a "publicly searchable library” of all political ads on the service", will also launch in India, Ukraine, and Israel.

Misinformation 'war room'

The company will also launch operations centres focused on electoral integrity in Dublin and Singapore to coordinate these efforts, said Clegg.

In the run up to the EU elections in May 2019, Facebook will set-up a "war room" in its Dublin HQ. The operational centre follows on from similar efforts across the Atlantic, where it brought staff together to police the platform during the US midterm and Brazillian presidential elections.

Clegg said the approach would boost Facebook's ongoing "rapid response efforts to fight misinformation". At the heart of the hub, will sit "dozens" of experts from across the company – including from our threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, community operations and legal teams.

"I’m in no doubt that we have a lot of work to do to demonstrate that Facebook’s tools can have a positive contribution to the quality of our democracy," he said.

Making changes

Speaking to the BBC ahead of the talk, Clegg addressed a number of other issues facing the platfrom. In the Q&A, he defended Facebook's ad-supported businesss model but did admit that the business should pay more tax outwith the US.

He said it was "unbalanced" that most of Facebook's $4bn [£3bn] tax bill was paid in the US "even though the vast majority of Facebook's users are outside the United States."

"That is what needs to change," he continued, adding the resposibility was on governments to come up with "a better way to tax companies like Facebook".

Clegg also responded to an investigation by the broadcaster which last week found a link between distressing self-harm images on sister site Instagram and the suicide of British teenager Molly Russell.

Follwing the probe, which revealed that advertisers they had been appearing alongside the dangerous posts, trade body Isba demanded that an independent, industry funded body be established to certify content appropriate for advertising.

On how Facebook is responding, Clegg said: "I can tell you firstly we're going to look at this from top to bottom, change everything we're doing if necessary, to get it right.

"We're already taking steps soon to blur images, block a number of hashtags that have come to light, and thirdly to continue to work... with the Samaritans and other organisations."

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