Congressional investigators are miffed that Facebook is withholding evidence that could rip the lid off Russia’s propaganda campaign during the 2016 election.
The social media giant is reportedly refusing to turn over a draft memo on the ad-buying strategy it says was used by Vladimir Putin’s government. A white paper that came out in April didn’t delve into detail, the Washington Post reported. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are seeking the original document.
They’re also insisting that Facebook turn over copies of the Moscow-backed ads. The materials have been provided to the Department of Justice’s special counsel division but not the legislative branch.
Congressional investigators are miffed that Facebook is withholding evidence that could rip the lid off Russia’s propaganda campaign during the 2016 election
Facebook allowed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to see the ads. They wouldn’t allow the panels to keep them for future study, though.
‘It’s always a little problematic when you come before a committee and show them documents and then take them back,’ Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on Senate Intel said. ‘My hope is they will be more cooperative going forward.’
Special Counsel Robert Mueller obtained the ads through a search warrant.
Tom Reynolds, a spokesman for Facebook, noted that his company showed the ads to investigatory panels on Capitol Hill.
‘We have voluntarily and proactively briefed both members and committee staff and look forward to continued cooperation,’ he told the Post. ‘Federal law and the ongoing investigation may limit what we can release publicly.’
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee, said Sunday on ABC’s This Week that he intends to haul Facebook, Google and Twitter before Congress to shed light on Russia’s propaganda campaign.
‘We need to know the full extent of their use of social media to influence us from Facebook, from Twitter, from Google, from any social media or search engine,’ he said. ‘They need to be fully forthcoming. And I’m confident they will. I think, frankly, they need to come and testify before Congress because there’s a lot we need to know about this.’
Warner has said that Facebook should have to testify publicly. He told the Post that Twitter will speak to lawmakers soon.
A spokeswoman for Google, Andrea Faville, said her company is ‘always monitoring for abuse or violations of our policies and we’ve seen no evidence this type of ad campaign was run on our platforms.’
It was Warner’s questioning during a May visit to Facebook that led lawmakers to Russia’s misuse of the social platform’s ad service in the first place, the Post reported.
He’s trying to force a deeper investigation into similar disinformation campaigns that Russia might be running through Facebook in countries that were previously under Soviet control.
‘When I was raising this issue, they were kind of dismissive,’ Warner said. ‘They took down 50,000 accounts in France. I find it hard to believe they’ve only been able to identify 470 accounts in America.’
Speaking about the effort to obtain the ads that are known to have run in the U.S., Schiff on Sunday said, ‘There are are issues about what legal process we need to use to get this information from Facebook.
‘But frankly, I am distressed that it has taken us this long to be informed that the Russians had paid for at least $100,000 of ads designed to try to influence our electoral process.’
Special Counsel Robert Mueller obtained the Facebook ads purchased by a Russian troll farm through a search warrant
Facebook has admitted to selling political ads of roughly that value to 470 accounts and pages that they are thought to have been operated out of Russia. The social media company has discontinued the accounts that it knows of since the finding.
Another $50,000 went to 2,200 ‘potentially politically related’ ads that follow the same pattern.
The fake accounts are linked to the Internet Research Agency, a pro-Kremlin group that essentially operates as a troll farm.
Payments for the ads were tracked to Russian addresses and made in Russian rubles, congressional investigators revealed to the Post.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had denied just after the election that the social network’s newsfeed had been manipulated. He called it a ‘crazy idea’ at the time.
The April white paper that Facebook put out did not directly name Russia as a malicious actor. It made a thinly-veiled reference to the Kremlin when it said it did not dispute the intelligence community’s previous findings.
Federal officials have said that Russia meddled in the election without going into the specifics of how it knows the Kremlin was involved. Representatives from the agencies involved has testified that there’s no evidence of vote tampering, however.