Facebook takes down Conservative ad that featured BBC content

The clip begins with the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, saying ‘pointless delay to Brexit’, in footage taken from an archive news broadcast. Photograph: BBC

The Laura Kuenssberg and Huw Edwards footage could damage the perceived perception of impartiality, says BBC

It may be hailed ‘The Brexit Election’ but the role of social media and tactics used by political parties have become one of the key talking points as voters prepare to head to the polls.

Early this week the BBC demanded the Conservatives take down Facebook adverts featuring footage of its journalists Laura Kuenssberg and Huw Edwards, arguing that their inclusion could damage perceptions of the corporation’s impartiality.

The short clip begins with Kuenssberg saying the words “pointless delay to Brexit”, in footage taken from an archive news broadcast. Although the clip gives the impression it was the BBC political editor delivering that judgment, it appears she was actually quoting Boris Johnson’s comments from September when he rejected a further extension to article 50.

Her appearance is followed by footage of Edwards – who will host the BBC’s election night coverage – intoning that there will be “another Brexit delay”, followed by shaky footage of opposition leaders accompanied by threatening music.

The paid-for advert uses footage of the BBC’s political editor and the News at Ten host to argue that chaotic debates over Brexit can be avoided if people vote Conservative.

The BBC said its footage had been used without permission and asked the Conservatives to stop using the material in this manner. “This is a completely unacceptable use of BBC content which distorts our output and which could damage perceptions of our impartiality. We are asking the Conservatives to remove these adverts,” it said.

What happened…

This is just the latest stunt been played out by what appears to be the Tory ministry of propaganda. On November 28, the Conservatives published the Facebook advertisement featuring clips and commentary from UK public broadcaster BBC, featuring journalists Huw Edwards and Laura Kuenssberg.

On December 1, Facebook took down the advertisement. But why was the advert controversial?

It’s all in the edit…

The advert had featured very short snippets from BBC journalists, such as Kuenssberg, saying lines such as “pointless delay” when it comes to Brexit and ended with the tagline “get Brexit done”. Much of the concern surrounded the edited nature of the content – with their words taken out of the original context and pushed along party lines.

The BBC had expressed their concern and published a statement on Twitter. The Press Team said that it was a “completely unacceptable use of BBC content which distorts our output and which could damage perceptions of our impartiality”.

Facebook said: “We have removed this content following a valid intellectual property claim from the rights holder, the BBC. Whenever we receive valid IP claims against content on the platform, in advertising or elsewhere, we act in accordance with our policies and take action as required.”

How should social media companies deal with political advertising?

Although Facebook took down the advert, this forms part of a broader discussion around political advertisements.

Twitter, Facebook and Google have all laid out their stance on political advertising ahead of the UK elections – with Twitter banning ads by politicians while Google has said that they will ban ads that make “demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process”.

Facebook has come under fire for their policy – announcing earlier this year that they will not fact-check political speech on their platform.

For some, the fact that Facebook banned this advert on copyright grounds, rather than its “misrepresentations,” provides an issue at the heart of its political advert policy. “It always amazes me that ownership and property, which are still a type of ‘fact’, outrank truthfulness,” researcher Marc Owen Jones said on Twitter.

Facebook and other social media companies have called on government regulations to come to a consensus on how to tackle issues such as political advertising. Some commentators took to social to call for more regulation following Facebook’s decision to pull the Conservative advert featuring BBC content.

In common with other intentionally provocative stunts pulled by the Conservatives during this campaign, such as rebranding their press office Twitter account as a fact checker, it is possible the party will welcome any press coverage that focuses attention on its message.

The advert had been running for 24 hours on both Facebook and its sister site Instagram by the time of the BBC’s complaint. In this time it had been seen by about 100,000 people and it remains live. The advert was targeted at older male voters, although it is possible the Conservatives intended to put more money behind it to reach a wider audience.

Facebook’s Nick Clegg pushed back on demands to limit or fact-check political ads

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s chief lobbyist and a former British deputy prime minister, on Monday rejected suggestions that the company should impose limits on political ads, arguing that such measures could hurt the chances of “insurgent” politicians trying to break through.

His comments came after Twitter and Google both announced changes to how they handle these partisan ads, amid growing criticism in Europe, the United States and elsewhere that the world’s largest social network is helping to polarise electorates.

“On political ads, we have a different stance to Twitter,” Clegg told reporters during a two-day visit to Brussels where he will meet with European Commission officials as well as lawmakers from the EU Parliament. “If you look at the way in which Facebook is being used by challenger, newcomer and insurgent politicians, it’s an extremely important instrument by which democratic debate is enriched,” he added.

When asked if Facebook would take steps to reduce how political campaigns could target voters across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, Clegg refused to confirm reports that the tech giant was considering such a move.

“We don’t want to enter into the perilous, and we believe highly inappropriate, role of being a political referee in mature democracies,” said Clegg, who was due to meet with the Commission’s Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová, but not Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust and digital policy czar, during his time in Brussels.

“That basic scaffolding will remain the same. But of course, we will constantly look at further enhancements and improvements, and make announcements when we’re ready to do so,” he added.

With just weeks to go before a general election in the United Kingdom, Clegg also rebuffed criticism on both sides of the Atlantic that the company was not clamping down on the worst abusers of its services, including widespread trolling, terrorist content and political messaging that does not fully identify sponsors.

Related article: The Ministry of Truth concerns itself with with lies: Tories set up fake Labour manifesto website

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