Political adverts ‘not about making money', says Facebook chief

The social network's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said allowing such adverts is about enabling ‘political discourse'.

Allowing political adverts on Facebook is not about making money, a Facebook boss has claimed, as the social network faces further scrutiny in the lead-up to the 2020 US presidential elections and a possible UK general election.

Sheryl Sandberg, the tech giant’s chief operating officer, was asked why the company would not fact-check ads by politicians, a concern echoed by Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman Damian Collins on Tuesday.

Speaking at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles, Ms Sandberg said political ads make Facebook very little money, and allowing them to run on the platform is “part of political discourse”.

“This is a very small part of our revenue – we don’t release the numbers but it’s very small and it is very controversial, we are not doing this for the money,” she said.

“We take political ads because we really believe they are part of political discourse and that taking political ads means that people can speak.

“If you look at this over time, the people who have most benefited to run ads are people who are not covered by the media – so they can’t get their message out otherwise, people who are challenging an incumbent so they’re a challenger, and people who have different points of view, that’s been true historically.”

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer (Facebook/PA)

Ms Sandberg warned that taking political ads off the service completely would pull politicians away from wider debate about other issues in the world.

However, she reaffirmed that hate speech, terrorism and violence are not permitted.

“We think it is very important that we judge as little as possible and let people express themselves, but we don’t allow anything on the platform.

“If something is false, misinformation, fake news, we don’t take it off, we send it to third-party fact-checkers. If they mark it as false, we mark it as false, if you go to share it and it’s marked as false, we warn you with a pop-up.

“We dramatically reduce distribution, so we decrease it to about 20% and we show related articles.”

Earlier this week, Facebook set out fresh commitments to protect elections from interference and misinformation, including clearer labelling of fake news and plans for a dedicated operations centre if a general election is called.

However, the social network maintains that it is not its responsibility to be “setting the rules of the game or calling the shots”, urging Parliament to devise new rules for the era of digital campaigning.

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