Via Financial Times

Mark Zuckerberg has doubled down on his controversial decision to exempt politicians from fact checking, during a speech on Thursday in which he positioned Facebook squarely as a champion of free speech.

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, the Facebook founder and chief executive said that he had considered banning political advertisements from the social media platform altogether but decided against it.

“We must continue to stand for free expression,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or news in a democracy . . . Banning political ads favours incumbents and whoever the media chooses to cover.”

Mr Zuckerberg also said Facebook had been barred from operating in China because its free speech approach was at odds with Beijing’s censorship practices.

“[Moving into the Chinese market] is something I worked hard on for a long time. But we never came to an agreement on what it would take for us to operate there and they never let us in,” he said.

Facebook has faced backlash over a policy announced last month that exempts ads or content placed by politicians from being fact-checked by third parties. The social network has broad policies in place to fact check potentially false news or content.

The controversial decision prompted Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren to take out adverts on the platform last week that falsely claimed that Mr Zuckerberg had “just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election” in the 2020 vote. “Facebook changed their ads policy to allow politicians to run ads with known lies — explicitly turning the platform into a disinformation-for-profit machine,” Ms Warren tweeted at the time.

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Facebook also caused anger by refusing to take down an advert paid for by the Trump campaign that Joe Biden’s campaign said contained false accusations against the former US vice-president.

Mr Zuckerberg is preparing to testify before Congress next week. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives energy and commerce committee this week discussed whether there needed to be more rules around how social media platforms moderate user-generated content.

Facebook has faced accusations of political bias against conservative voices, particularly after it banned several far-right commentators from the platform for violation of its hate speech policies. In an escalation of tensions in May, President Trump launched an informal campaign urging conservatives who believe they have had their views censored on social media to share their stories.

But Mr Zuckerberg said on Thursday that he believed that his policies transcended “current bipartisan debate”.

He pointed to the fact the company is in the process of starting to create an independent “Supreme Court”-style board that will make decisions on whether controversial content should be allowed to remain on the site.