Facebook loses its only Dutch political fact checking company

Amidst the controversy over political ads on social media, Facebook has suffered a blow. Their Dutch fact checking partner, newspaper NU.nl has quit in protest
Thumbs up front sign at Facebook
Facebook applies more lenient rules around fact checking political ads. Image: Flickr

Politics and social media

We reported last week of the policies that social media platforms are implementing. This comes in a growing tide of controversy about how political campaigns are advertised, and whether information they use is checked.

Social media has had a huge impact on public access to information sharing. One ‘untrue’ statement can quickly reach millions of people.

Major recent political events such as the 2016 presidential elections and the UK Brexit referendum have been fought over social media.

Brexit voting poll card
Campaigns for recent political elections have been played out on social media. Image: Flickr

The new rules

Here is a summary of the policies introduced by Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat:

Facebook has introduced new policies to identify fake news. They have promised to verify the identify of users posting political ads through the platform and to use third party fact checkers to review the content of such ads before they go live.

Twitter has gone one step further in banning all political advertising from the platform and promising to delete any ads that are placed.

Snapchat are sitting on the fence and have confirmed they will fact check political ads, but will not remove them.

Mark Zuckerberg speaking on stage
NU.nl has quit working with Facebook in protest. Image: Facebook.

Why has NU.nl quit working with Facebook?

In a blog post released by NU.nl, the newspaper says that, ‘for the past half year, Nu.nl has been in conflict with Facebook about combating untrue political reporting.’

Strong words indeed.

Editor-in-Chief Gert-Jaap Hoekman asks, ‘what is the point of fighting fake news if you are not allowed to tackle politicians?’

This all revolves around the rules for fact checking political ads. NU acts as an independent fact checker. They clearly wish to remain a reputable media organisation and to be able to stand by the work they approve. However, they are restricted from applying the same rigorous filters and checks against political content.

Facebook allows protection for politicians and political parties, which then allows them more capacity to spread what might be potentially ‘fake news’. NU is not happy to stand by and allow this to continue.

Graphic image banner showing a fire and clouds underneath a poll card
NU.nl announced in their blog post that they will no longer work with Facebook. Image: NPO3.nl

How has Facebook responded?

They haven’t said much so far and it is unclear who might take over their fact checking service in the Netherlands. Facebook will certainly need a replacement partner if they are going to withhold their promises.

In a statement published by The Verge, a Facebook spokesperson said that they ‘regret to see them go, but respect their decision as an independent business. We have strong relationships with 55 fact-checking partners around the world who fact-check content in 45 languages, and we plan to continue expanding the program.’

A line in the sand

I applaud this stance. We reported recently about the power journalists have over the information we have access to, and how important ethical reporting is.

I certainly won’t be voting for any party who doubts the integrity of the press. Nor would I doubt the common sense of the voting public to spot a lie when we see one.

What do you think? Should politicians be able to use social media for advertising? Are NU right to quit working with Facebook? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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