- Facebook allowed political ads for far-right British political group Britain First to run on its platform in December, despite the fact the group is banned from the social network.
- The ads ran for several days in late December, promoting a Britain First petition against an upgraded mosque in Maidstone.
- According to the BBC, the ads were bought by Political Gamers TV, which is not directly affiliated to Britain First.
- Facebook initially said the ads didn’t violate its policies but eventually removed the posts.
Facebook is still finding its feet when it comes to enforcing new rules around political ads on its platform.
A BBC investigation found that the social network allowed at least two ads promoting a far-right British political group, Britain First, to run on its platform. Britain First and its leaders have been banned from Facebook since May 2018.
The ads ran for a few days in late December and promoted a Britain First petition to halt the reconstruction of a mosque in Maidstone. You can see an example of one ad below, and the rest on Facebook’s archive of political ads:
The ads were not bought by direct representatives of Britain First, according to the BBC.
Instead they were bought by a page called Political Gamers TV, which described itself to the BBC as: “A new, growing patriotic gaming youth movement… here to defend the rights of gamers and games from the unfair treatment of male gamers coming from SJWs [social justice warriors], feminists and left-wing activists.”
The ads were initially flagged by a Facebook user, Brian Whelan, in January and Facebook said the posts didn’t violate its rules. When the BBC flagged the ads, Facebook removed the ads and the Political Gamers TV page, saying the violated its policies.
A Facebook spokesman said in a statement: “Britain First’s Pages were removed from Facebook in March 2018 for repeated content violations. We thank the BBC for bringing the Page ‘Political Gamers TV’ to our attention, which violated our policies and has now been removed. We urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our Community Standards, so we can continue to take appropriate action such as this.”
Britain First criticised Facebook for removing content that supported the group, and said it was suing for “political discrimination.”
“This is political gerrymandering and censorship at its worst,” the group told the BBC. “This is why Britain First is suing Facebook for political discrimination, in Belfast High Court.”
This appears to be one of the first real-world tests of Facebook’s new political transparency tools, which were rolled out in 2018 and were designed to tackle foreign interference in elections and to help with the spread of fake news.
It follows investigations by Vice and Business Insider which show that it’s easy to post prohibited political ads on Facebook, despite its stricter rules. Vice posed as 100 US senators to post fake political ads and was approved by Facebook. Business Insider posed as banned data consultancy Cambridge Analytica and successfully posted divisive ads about Brexit.
Facebook delayed the rollout of its new political ad transparency tools in the UK as a result. The tools eventually rolled out in November with what Facebook described as tighter approval processes.
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