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Can we trust Facebook to keep its platform clean during the general election?

Facebook is under pressure to review its advertising policies. Credit: AP /PA

Twitter’s decision to ban political adverts is eye-catching but isn’t as important as it sounds.

When it comes to campaigning, Facebook- which says it has 41 million monthly users in the UK - is the platform of choice.

Politicians and political parties are increasingly using Facebook to connect with voters.

According to the Electoral Commission, during the 2015 election they spent £1.5 million advertising on Facebook. In 2017 they spent £3.2 million. This time round there will be even more of an emphasis on social media.

Politicians rarely tell outright lies but they do push the limits of what’s true. In the battle for public opinion facts sometimes get polished and presented in a way that misleading.

It’s easy to call out a bogus claim when its broadcast on television, printed in a newspaper or painted on the side of a bus but social media is unregulated and therefore harder to police.

Facebook, Twitter and Google have been repeatedly criticised for failing to vet the information on their platforms.

The concern is that all three can and have been used to undermine democratic elections.

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"Internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics," acknowledged Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder.

Twitter’s revenues from political advertising are derisory so the decision to pull them will have a limited financial impact on the company.

Dorsey presented the decision to ditch political adverts as having been motivated by a wish to protect the integrity of the electoral process.

Facebook says it will continue to carry political adverts for the same reason.

"In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news," Facebook Mark Zuckerberg founder insists.

Facebook won’t be factchecking the adverts political parties and candidates during the weeks to come but it will be archiving them so they can be watched again.

The company also publishes an Ad Library Report detailing who has spent what and the audience it reached.

A view of the new tool from Facebook which shows spending on advertising by page. Credit: Facebook

For example, in the last seven days the biggest spender has been the UK government which paid Facebook £192,753 for adverts targeted at businesses, urging them to prepare for a Brexit that never happened on October 31.

Over the same period, the Liberal Democrats spent £13,539 - more than any of the other parties.

Facebook says it will remove material when a politician shares "previously debunked content including links, videos and photos".

The company says it is also setting up a dedicated operations centre during the election campaign to monitor activity across its platform, although the details have yet to be announced.

Of course, it isn’t only political parties who are tempted to influence elections by spreading false and manipulated information. It’s a much wider problem.

Can we be confident that Facebook users won’t be deceived or mislead during this campaign?

In a statement the company said: "While we can never say for sure that the won’t be issues in future elections, we are confident that we’re better prepared than ever."