Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg doubled down on the firm's stance on political advertising late on Wednesday, saying that the firm allows the ads on free speech grounds even though they don't bring in much revenue and cause huge hassle.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Sandberg said that Facebook barely makes any money from political ads.
"We're not doing it because of the money," she said. "This is less than 1% of our revenue and the revenue is not worth the controversy."
She added that Facebook continues to allow political ads on free speech grounds. "[We] believe in free expression, we believe in political speech, and ads can be an important part of that."
Sandberg was comment as Facebook registered another strong quarter, reporting revenue of $17.65 billion and net income of $6.09 billion.
The issue of political advertising on social media has become deeply sensitive and gnarly, particularly in the run-up to a December general election in the UK and the 2020 US presidential election. The 2016 US presidential election was tainted by misinformation spread by Russian operatives, particularly on Facebook.
The recent controversy began when Facebook stated that it would tolerate politicians running ads that contain lies. Its top spokesman Nick Clegg wrote a post on September 24 stating that ads from politicians would not undergo the same third-party fact-checking process as other content. CEO Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on the policy in a speech. Critics now worry that Facebook's stance means politicians will lie with impunity ahead of an election. They point to Donald Trump who frequently trades in conspiracy theories and has been caught making misleading claims in ads.
Chris Hughes, a Facebook cofounder-turned-critic, wrote on Twitter earlier in October: "By deciding to allow outright lies in political ads to travel on Facebook, [Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg] is embracing the philosophy behind Trumpism and thereby tipping the scales.
"There is a higher calling — to be a platform that won't allow political lies to spread. Employees should demand that kind of policy. It isn't partisan — it's the right thing to do."
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg's major business rival, said that his firm would ban all political ads, making the announcement pointedly just minutes before Facebook was due to publish its third-quarter earnings.
Dorsey said: "This isn't about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today's democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It's worth stepping back in order to address."