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Nick Clegg says Facebook is not in the business of vetting what politicians say

James Titcomb
Sir Nick Clegg - PA

Sir Nick Clegg has stood by Facebook’s hands-off approach to fact-checking politicians after Twitter ignited a row with Donald Trump by attaching a warning label to the president’s tweet.

Speaking to shareholders at Facebook’s annual meeting, Sir Nick, the company’s PR and policy chief, said it was not up to private companies to filter political speech.

“We do not believe... that a private technology company like Facebook should be in the business of vetting what politicians say about each other,” Sir Nick said in response to a question about why Facebook does not fact check political adverts.

“We do not believe Facebook should try to be the arbiter of truth when it comes to open democratic debate. In general, we think people should be allowed to hear what politicians say so they can make up their own minds and hold those politicians to account.”

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said: “A lot of history suggests giving people a voice ends up being productive and important for society, even if it creates tension.”

The comments draw a line between Facebook and its rival social network Twitter, a day after the latter added a fact-checking label to a tweet from Mr Trump claiming that expanding postal voting would lead to widespread fraud. 

Mr Trump’s official Facebook profile posted an identical message to the tweet that Twitter labelled, but Facebook has not augmented the post in the same way.

Facebook has been under pressure to police political messages and adverts more strictly in the run-up to November’s US election. It has stood firm on a refusal to fact-check political adverts, even those with clear lies, claiming that political speech is widely scrutinised. 

On Wednesday, Facebook investors voted on a shareholder proposal demanding the company produce a report into its policies on political adverts and whether they could harm the company. 

The proposal was doomed from the start, since Mr Zuckerberg controls around 60pc of the company’s shareholder voting power due to a “super share” structure that gives him complete control of Facebook despite only owning a 13pc stake.

Other shareholder initiatives, such as removing Mr Zuckerberg as chairman and evaluating the implications of a new encryption policy on child safety, also failed. Facebook did not say how many votes had been cast in favour of the proposals.

Rebel Amazon shareholders also failed to muster support for proposals including demanding chief executive Jeff Bezos be replaced by an independent chairman at the company's annual meeting.