Facebook is now operating without a third-party fact-checking service in the Netherlands. The company’s only partner, Dutch newspaper NU.nl, just quit over a dispute regarding the social network’s policy to allow politicians to run ads containing misinformation.
“What is the point of fighting fake news if you are not allowed to tackle politicians?” asked NU.nl’s editor-in-chief Gert-Jaap Hoekman in a blog post announcing the decision. “Let one thing be clear: we stand behind the content of our fact checks.”
The conflict began in May when Facebook intervened in NU.nl’s decision to label an ad from the Dutch politician Esther de Lange as unsubstantiated. The ad’s claim, that 10 percent of farmland in Romania is owned by non-Europeans, could not be verified, which led NU.nl to label it as false. Facebook intervened in that decision, telling the organization that politicians’ speech should not be fact-checked.
Facebook’s advertising guidelines do not allow misinformation in ads, and the company relies on third-party fact-checking services to vet the claims marketers are making. In October, however, the company formally exempted politicians from being part of this program. “From now on we will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard,” wrote Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of communications.
The news set off a firestorm of criticism from prominent Democrats. “Once again, we’re seeing Facebook throw its hands up to battling misinformation in the political discourse, because when profit comes up against protecting democracy, Facebook chooses profit,” Elizabeth Warren tweeted.
Pressure began to mount after Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter would no longer allow political ads on the platform. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” he wrote on Twitter. Some of Facebook’s own employees penned an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to consider changing his mind.
NU.nl felt increasingly uncomfortable with its relationship with Facebook. The organization had become the only third-party fact-checking service Facebook used in the Netherlands, after Leiden University pulled out from its partnership last year. When it became clear the social network would not change its position, NU.nl decided to put an end to its partnership as well.
“We value the work that Nu.nl has done and regret to see them go, but respect their decision as an independent business,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement emailed to The Verge. “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.”