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Facebook says 'not our role' to remove content some politicians 'consider to be false'

Facebook rejects Australian political party's claim about fake news.

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The social media platform has been mired in controversy.

Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook's controversies with political campaigns march ever on. Vice President of Facebook Asia Pacific Simon Milner reportedly delivered a judgement on Facebook's handling of potential fake news that spread on its platform during Australia's federal election this past May.

In correspondence seen by Guardian Australia, reported Tuesday, Facebook executive Simon Milner reportedly said it is not "our role to remove content that one side of a political debate considers to be false." The letter was reportedly sent to outgoing national secretary of Australia's Labor party, Noah Carroll, a month after Australia's 2019 election day. 

In the lead up to the election, a misinformation campaign spread about Labor's plan to bring back the death tax, which Australia dropped back in the 1970s. Labor wrote to Facebook, telling the company that the death tax "fake news" could sway the election. Milner's letter was in response to Labor's appeal for posts to be taken down.

"I understand that your preference would be for Facebook to remove all content that you believe constitutes misinformation -- which in this instance mean (sic) all content that discussed whether or not Labor intends to introduce a death tax -- rather than demote it; however Facebook only removes content that violates our community standards," Milner reportedly said in the letter.

"We do not agree that is is our role to remove content that one side of a political debate considers to be false."

In the backwards and forwards between the Facebook executive and Labor, Milner reportedly said Facebook would support "the Australian government's work to safeguard the 2019 election." This comes following Australia's antitrust watchdog's 18-month probe on digital platforms including Facebook and Google. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission recently fined Facebook a record-breaking $5 billion over privacy issues, related to the social media platform's potential influence over political campaigns.

In addressing the letter, a Facebook spokesperson detailed the company's approach to fighting fake news.

"Our approach to fighting misinformation on Facebook is focused on removing content and accounts that violate our policies, reducing the distribution of misleading content, and informing people when they do come across misleading content."

The spokesperson's comment echoes Milner's letter.

"We do not have a policy that prohibits alleged falsehoods, apart from in situations where this content has the potential to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm, and we have a responsibility to consider any government request to remove content carefully and thoughtfully. We work hard to find the right balance between encouraging free expression and promoting a safe and authentic community, and we believe that reducing the distribution of inauthentic content strikes that balance."

Originally published July 30.
Update, July 31: Adds Facebook comment.