Facebook says Craig Kelly’s content on United Australia Party page OK after banning MP

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<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Facebook says the United Australia Party’s page does not violate the social media giant’s community standards despite carrying prominent content from Craig Kelly, whose accounts have been banned for breaching the social media company’s misinformation policy.

Last month, Labor’s Tim Watts asked the social media behemoth to explain how advertisements fronted by Kelly – the former Liberal and now federal parliamentary leader of the UAP – could still be in wide circulation on the platform when his page is banned.

Kelly’s profile was suspended for a number of weeks earlier this year over posts promoting hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin and questioning the effectiveness of masks. Facebook then made the ban permanent in April.

Related: Labor appeals to Google over misinformation fears before Australian election

Before he was removed from the platform, the outspoken MP had amassed more than 86,000 followers and was frequently one of the highest performers among politicians on Facebook.

Kelly quit the Liberal party in February in part because he wanted to keep posting about unproven treatments for Covid-19.

Facebook has now responded to Watts, the shadow assistant minister for cybersecurity. Mia Garlick, Facebook’s director of policy in Australia and New Zealand, told the Labor frontbencher the different approaches in enforcement reflected the fact the accounts had different purposes.

“As a matter of public record, under our harmful health misinformation policy, we have removed the Facebook and Instagram accounts representing Mr Craig Kelly MP for repeated violations of our community standards,” Garlick said in correspondence seen by Guardian Australia.

Related: Facebook asked to explain Craig Kelly ads after MP’s page banned

Garlick told Watts Facebook had also “removed additional accounts that appear to have been created with the purpose of evading this enforcement”.

But this did not extend to the UAP’s accounts because the page does “not currently” violate community standards on repeat offending “due to the difference in purpose of the banned accounts (to specifically represent Mr Kelly) and the purpose of this page (to cover the United Australia party more generally, including other candidates)”.

In his complaint to Facebook in September, Watts noted the UAP had launched a new campaign on both Facebook and Google, spending more than $500,000 on advertising in a month. Watts suggested the conduct amounted to “ban evasion”.

“It is difficult to understand how Facebook’s rules could allow for an individual to be banned from Facebook for repeatedly sharing misinformation about Covid-19, while also allowing that individual to return to the platform as the leader of a group with plans for a massive social media advertising spend,” Watts said at that time.

The Labor frontbencher told parliament on Monday of the 19 videos on the UAP page, “14 are of the member for Hughes – he voices them, he authorises them under Australian electoral law and he’s spent tens of thousands of dollars advertising them”.

Watts said it wasn’t good enough for Facebook to say the activity was acceptable because the UAP had a different purpose to Kelly’s now deleted account.

He said Facebook had said previously it would take down new pages in the voice of a previously banned individual.

“I’m sick of long statements from Facebook that say a lot but ultimately declare that they aren’t going to do anything,” he said.

Kelly told Guardian Australia on Monday he was close to launching legal proceedings against Facebook for defamation and breach of contract. Kelly contends the platform defamed him when Facebook said he had been banned for spreading misinformation.

He said he was unaware about the removal of additional accounts referenced by Garlick in her response to Watts, although he said prior to the ban he had two Facebook accounts, and both had been removed.

Of Watts’ complaint to Facebook, Kelly said: “It is very disappointing that another member of the Australian parliament has attempted to declare me an un-person. Mr Watts’ conduct is an affront to free speech”.

He said Watts needed to “take a good hard look at himself”.

Watts said on Monday Kelly was entitled to “say whatever he likes here” – meaning in the parliament. But he said he should not be entitled “amplification by an algorithm that advantages the divisive and the outrageous”.

Garlick told Watts Facebook continued to “actively work to combat the sharing of Covid-related misinformation in Australia, and we are committed to take an aggressive approach in response”.

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