UK Markets closed

Defiant Mark Zuckerberg defends Facebook policy to allow false ads

Oliver Milman in New York
Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Media

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has defended the company’s decision to not take down political advertising that contains false information – and compared the alternative to censorship.

Related: BBC tells Tories to take down Facebook ad featuring its presenters

Challenged on CBS over the policy, which has raised concerns over misinformation campaigns that could distort elections, Zuckerberg refused to commit to any changes.

“What I believe is that in a democracy, it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” he said.

“And, you know, I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”

Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning, pointed out that 200 Facebook employees wrote a letter asking Zuckerberg to reconsider as “free speech and paid speech are not the same”.

The Facebook co-founder was unmoved.

“Well, this is a clearly a very complex issue, and a lot of people have a lot of different opinions,” he said. “At the end of the day, I just think that in a democracy, people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.”

He added: “I think that people should be able to judge for themselves the character of politicians.”

Zuckerberg has come under criticism from lawmakers including New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have warned that the 2020 presidential election will be influenced by paid-for false claims spread by the social media platform.

Similar fears have played out in the UK ahead of its general election this month. Facebook removed an ad by the Conservatives that showed BBC reporters seemingly decrying a “pointless delay to Brexit” – in fact the reporters were quoting politicians including prime minister Boris Johnson.

The BBC asked the Tories to take the ad down, only to be rebuffed. Facebook acquiesced, however, due to “intellectual property” concerns.

Related: Facebook to ban two white nationalist groups after Guardian report

Facebook’s outsized role in funnelling false claims and fake news stories to voters has been highlighted since the election of Donald Trump as US president.

The company has been accused of giving a mainstream platform to extremist groups, with Guardian US recently reporting how two white nationalist organizations continued to operate Facebook pages months after a promised ban.

On CBS, King asked Zuckerberg about a meeting with Trump at the White House in October. Trump has previously said Facebook shouldn’t ban political ads.

Zuckerberg said: “We talked about a number of things that were on his mind. And some of the topics that you’d read about in the news around our work.”

Asked if Trump lobbied him, Zuckerberg said: “No. I mean, I don’t think that that’s … I think some of the stuff that people talk about or think gets discussed [in] these discussions are not really how that works.

“I also want to respect that it was a private dinner and … private discussion.”