British Lawmaker Asks Facebook for Brexit, Election Ads With Links to Russia

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Facebook.Dado Ruvic / Reuters file

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/ Source: Reuters
By Yuliya Talmazan

LONDON — A Conservative British MP wants Facebook to hand over information on Russian-linked ads in relation to the last year's Brexit referendum and this year's general election.

In the open letter addressed to the company's co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, Damian Collins says the request is part of his country's ongoing inquiry into what he calls "the phenomenon of fake news." He said in his letter that the probe focuses on the role of foreign actors "abusing platforms such as yours to interfere in the political discourse of other nations."

Collins, who chairs the UK House of Commons digital committee, specifically requested details relating to any advertisements and pages paid for, or set up, by Russian-linked accounts.

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The Tory MP is also asking for information on who was targeted, how many times they were viewed and how much money was paid for them.

"I believe that the information that I have requested is in line with that already supplied by Facebook to several United States Senate Committees, including the Senate Intelligence Committee, in relation to the 2016 US Presidential Election," Collins said in the letter.

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A Facebook spokesperson said the company received the letter and "will respond once we have had the opportunity to review the request."

Last month, Facebook announced it would give Congress thousands of advertisements suspected to be linked to the Russian attempt to undermine last year's presidential election.

An earlier Facebook investigation found that an influence operation likely based in Russia spent $100,000 on thousands of ads promoting divisive social and political messages in a two-year-period.

Facebook said many of the 3,000 ads promoted 470 "inauthentic" accounts and pages that it has now suspended. The ads spread polarizing views on topics including immigration rather than backing a particular political candidate. Another $50,000 went to about 2,200 "potentially politically related" ads and might have been bought by Russians in potential violation of U.S. election law.

In the weeks following the announcement, Zuckerberg promised Facebook would implement additional measures to ensure the transparency and integrity of political advertisements. He said the review process for political advertisements will be beefed up and advertisers will have to disclose who paid for their ads.

Many of Facebook's five million advertisers are able to set up their campaigns without ever needing to work with a human on the other end.

Alyssa Newcomb contributed.