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Nick Clegg uses debut as Facebook lobbyist to win over EU

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Facebook Inc will begin vetting political advertisers in Europe and displaying who paid for specific ads from March, the company's head lobbyist Nick Clegg said during a speech in Brussels on Monday.

[BRUSSELS] Facebook Inc will begin vetting political advertisers in Europe and displaying who paid for specific ads from March, the company's head lobbyist said during a speech in Brussels on Monday.

The company will create an operations centre in Dublin to coordinate the efforts, which will include only allowing "authorised" entities to purchase certain types of ad. Users will be able to see how well such promotions allowed on the platform performed, how much was paid for them, and the demographics of individuals who saw them.

"These tools will cover not only electoral ads, but also so-called ‘issue ads' - ads which don't explicitly back one candidate or political party but which focus on highly politicized topics, like immigration," Nick Clegg said.

Such content would be archived in a searchable library for the public to access for up to seven years, he said.

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The announcement follows the heavy fire Facebook has been under from governments around the world over issues ranging from its handling of user data, to the spread of misinformation and hate speech on its platforms. That scrutiny is particularly intense in Europe, where regulators can levy steep fines for compliance failures.

It led the social network to announce in October that it had hired Clegg, formerly Britain's former deputy prime minister and member of the European Parliament, to steer Facebook's lobbying and communications affairs.

In his first speech since taking the job, he also said Monday that the company was considering creating an independent external appeals body, to which the public could raise concerns about content decisions made by Facebook.

"This external board will make binding decisions on some of the most contentious issues of free speech affecting 2.6 billion people across the globe," he said, referring to Facebook's total number of users. A draft charter for this proposed body would be published Monday.

The former politician's visit to Brussels comes as Europe readies for elections this spring. Facebook, along with Alphabet Inc's Google, Twitter Inc and other tech and advertising companies, in September agreed to a code of conduct to combat misinformation on their platforms. That includes implementing transparency tools for political ads in Europe after recently rolling them out in the US.

Facebook has already started providing more transparency around political ads in the UK, where it requires any advertisers running ads with reference to political figures, parties or elections to verify their identity and carry a "paid for by" disclaimer under the ad.

The European Commission, the bloc's executive, has threatened to propose legislation in the area if the platforms' efforts on misinformation are unsatisfactory. The European cybersecurity and digital commissioners are set to hold a press conference on Tuesday about the companies' efforts to fight disinformation.

The company also recently announced it had disrupted two campaigns run by fake accounts with links to Russia and its Sputnik news service, which resulted in it removing hundreds of Facebook pages and accounts. The pages and accounts were misrepresenting their identities and promoting protest movements and anti-Nato sentiment in central and eastern Europe, the company said.

Facebook said in a blog post Monday that it currently employs 30,000 people to work on "safety and security," three times as many as in 2017, when it discovered an extensive campaign by Russia to manipulate US voters.

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