Facebook has admitted to New Zealand politicians it needs to be more transparent and accountable, and signalled it is open to a form of regulation.
The comments came as top executives fronted Parliament's justice select committee for the first time, explaining the social media giant's actions during Election 2020 and also revealing the scale of the "adversarial" nature of the internet, having removed 2.6 billion fake accounts in just the second half of 2020 globally.
Facebook has come under fire around the world for its influence during elections, particularly in the United States and in relation to Cambridge Analytica. Several countries, along with the European Union, have sought to regulate the social media giant to provide more transparency and accountability.
New Zealand intelligence agencies on Tuesday told the committee there had been no such influences during the New Zealand election.
However, Facebook had suspended accounts of minor political parties Advance NZ and the Outdoors Party during the election, on the grounds that they were spreading misinformation about the ongoing pandemic.
Facebook's Australia, New Zealand and Pacific regional public policy director Mia Garlick said since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic in January last year it had removed over 80 million pieces of "harmful" misinformation.
In just the second half of 2020, during which the New Zealand election ran, it removed over 2.6 billion fake accounts globally - over 99.2 per cent before they were reported, Garlick said. She had no specific data for New Zealand.
They employed local fact-checkers globally for non-Covid related content, spending over $100 million, including contracting AAP in New Zealand, which hired New Zealand journalists.
Garlick said this was in recognition it was "not appropriate" for a US-based multinational company to decide what the truth was.
Where such content was deemed false, Facebook de-prioritised it within the algorithm, Garlick said.
Facebook's NZ/Pacific head of public policy Nick McDonnell said statements from politicians were exempt.
During the election they had promoted the electoral process, and run a fake news awareness campaign alongside NetSafe, which reached 1.6 million people on social media, he said.
Transparency tools, requiring disclosure of who is behind ads and paid posts, were made mandatory in the middle of the year for official party accounts, he said.
This made public behind-the-scenes details of adverts such as which demographics saw the advert.
Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said she had "grave concerns" around the platform, having heard from intelligence services and the Electoral Commission their own concerns around data privacy and spread of misinformation.
She said the company had the power to protect data, but questioned what exactly it was doing given continued leaks and misinformation.
Since the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal for which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologised, 63,714 New Zealand users had their data leaked or harvested from the social media platform, she said.
In April this year the personal data of over 500 million Facebook users globally was also leaked, she said.
That data was "used quite often in political manipulation".
"I don't think you should be left to be self-governing anymore.
"The time of us treating you as the postman, rather than the publisher, it has passed. You are the publisher, and we hold publishers to account in a very different way online."
Garlick said she thought they were "slightly different to a publisher", and stated the company's community standards were transparent and updated every two weeks.