Facebook has lost its only fact-checking partner in the Netherlands, Dutch digital newspaper NU.nl, over its policy of allowing politicians to openly lie in ads on the platform, according to an article on NPO 3.
NU.nl’s decision to bail comes amid widespread blowback over the Facebook policy. Critics, including some of its own employees, have argued it incentivises online disinformation campaigns at an unprecedented level and may have more to do with building influence among politicians. (In the U.S., Facebook is struggling to placate conservative critics who think the company is biased towards liberals, while Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has reacted angrily to proposed changes to ad policies it believes could limit its reach on Facebook.) Conversely, Facebook insists that it simply believes that it’s not an “appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny.”
According to NPO 3, NU.nl was the only third party partner working with Facebook’s beleaguered fact-checking program in the Netherlands. NU.nl said the latest spat came after it ruled that an ad by Dutch politician Esther de Lange stating that 10 per cent of Romanian farmland was owned by non-Europeans was unsubstantiated; Facebook then intervened, saying that politicians were off-limits. The Verge noted that Facebook’s other fact-checker in the region, Leiden University, stopped participating in the program in 2018.
“What is the point of fighting fake news if you are not allowed to tackle politicians?” NU.nl editor-in-chief Gert-Jaap Hoekman wrote in NPO 3. “Let one thing be clear: we stand behind the content of our fact checks.”
“We value the work that Nu.nl has done and regret to see them go, but respect their decision as an independent business,” Facebook spokesperson told the Verge in a statement. “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 in Europe and hopefully in the Netherlands.”
Facebook’s rivals have taken the opportunity to stake out different positions on political ads. In October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced a ban on all ads promoting any type of legislation, ballot measure, referendum, or regulation, as well as those placed by political candidates or parties, across the Twitter advertising platform. Google has amended its ad policies to limit the amount of information available to candidates and parties when targeting ads to broad categories like gender, age, and postal codes, as well as state it will police all ads for false claims or manipulated media.