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Executive claims Facebook could swing result of referendum

Facebook could swing the outcome of the independence referendum, and the next general election, but should not pay more tax in this country, according to a senior executive at the technology giant.

Elizabeth Linder, Facebook's Politics and Government Specialist for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, denied that the social media phenomenon was seeking representation without taxation. And she insisted that the company was not too close to the Conservatives to take such a crucial position in public life.

In an interview at Facebook's new London headquarters, Ms Linder said Facebook had evidence that suggested it had the ability to swing certain elections.

The social network has joined with the taxpayer-funded Electoral Commission to encourage Scots to register to vote.

Scottish Facebook users have already received posts in their newsfeeds highlighting an official guide to the referendum, including information from both sides.

On polling day on the 18th they will also see a reminder to go out and vote.

Ms Linder pointed to a study published in the journal Nature in 2010, which found that around 340,000 were influenced to vote in US congressional elections by a post no Facebook.

She added: "So in a swing (US) state, for example, that could be enough to tip the scale. Numbers coming out of Scotland are showing that this has the potential to be an extremely close vote. In which case every vote really does count. These experiences, of friends influencing friends, matter".

She said that she had no qualms that a multi-billion dollar commercial organisation might be able to influence the outcome of important elections and referendums.

"At the end of the day, people influence the outcome", she said.

Facebook will be stepping up its interaction with UK politics in the run up to next year's general election, which opinion polls also suggest could be an extremely tight vote. That move could prove controversial.

Facebook has faced accusations of "disingenuous and immoral" behaviour as well as accusations that it does not pay enough in the UK.

The company is reported to have paid no corporation tax in the UK at all in 2012 but Facebook insists that it pays all required taxes by UK law.

Asked if Facebook wanted representation without taxation, Ms Linder said the reverse was true - and suggested the issue was larger than individual nation states. "What we can do is encourage people to talk to each other and I'm not convinced that is just country by country," she said, "People are living in a global world… it is not just about nations and borders, it is also a cross-cultural dialogue."

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