Facebook investigates Russian links to Brexit vote
Facebook said Wednesday that it is investigating potential Russian meddling on social media connected to the British referendum to leave the European Union in 2016.
The decision comes just over a month after the social networking giant told U.K. lawmakers that Russian-backed groups spent less than £1 on advertising linked to the Brexit vote.
Some British politicians derided that figure as being too low, saying it could not represent all of the potential spending by Russian groups hoping to sway local voters on Facebook.
In response, the company agreed to investigate whether other Russian-linked groups bought advertising on the social network that may have been viewed by people in the U.K. ahead of the 2016 Brexit vote.
“This work requires detailed analysis of historic data,” Simon Milner, Facebook’s U.K. policy director, said in a letter to British lawmakers. We “estimate it will take a number of weeks to complete, but the timescale is very much dependent on any findings during the course of the investigation.”
As part of the new investigation, Facebook will look at potential clusters of online advertising linked to the Brexit vote, which also may have connections to Russian-backed groups. The company added that it would welcome any information from the British government to aid its investigation.
In its initial investigation, made public in December, Facebook focused solely on the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a St. Petersburg-based group that has ties to the Russian government. In that limited probe, Facebook said the IRA had spent just £1 during the Brexit referendum.
The American tech giant had said the same Russian group had spent roughly $100,000 on 3,000 ads between June 2015 and May 2017 across 470 Facebook accounts and pages connected to the U.S. presidential campaign and its aftermath.
Damian Collins, the British politician leading a parliamentary investigation into so-called fake news, welcomed Facebook’s new investigation, adding that it was the duty of the company to identify any potential inappropriate activity.
“I look forward to seeing the results of this investigation,” Collins said. “I’m sure we will want to question Facebook about this when we know the outcome.”
Europe needs to bolster defenses against Russian meddling substantially ahead of upcoming elections, notably by spending much more, MEPs argued during a plenary debate in Strasbourg.