House Intel leaders to release Facebook ads purchased by Kremlin-linked groups

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Facebook is apparently clamping down on the distribution of political advertisers using the social media platform.
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WASHINGTON — Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday they will soon make public the Facebook ads that were purchased by Kremlin-linked groups as part of Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who is leading the panel’s Russia investigation, said the committee will release about 3,000 ads provided to the panel by Facebook. He said the release will probably not come before a Nov. 1 public hearing the committee is holding with executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google.

“We will do that as quick as we can,” Conaway said of the release.

That hearing will focus on how Russians exploited social media sites to try to influence the election. Facebook recently revealed that Kremlin-linked groups purchased $100,000 worth of ads last year.

“We’ve asked for Facebook’s help to help scrub any personally identifiable information, but it’s our hope that when they conclude, then we can release them publicly,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the committee.

Conaway and Schiff made those comments to reporters after a closed-door meeting with Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. 

The House committee’s willingness to make the ads public stands in contrast to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has also received the ads and also has a Nov. 1 public hearing scheduled with social media executives.

Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate panel, told reporters last week that he did not intend to make the Facebook ads public in the midst of the committee’s investigation of Russian interference in last year’s election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“We don’t release documents provided to our committee, period,” said Burr, R-N.C.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s senior Democrat, has called for the ads to be released.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was initially dismissive of the idea that the Russians could have manipulated Facebook during the election, but he finally acknowledges the problem after discovering more than 3,000 ads that the company believes were purchased by a Russian troll farm. 

Just last week, Facebook revealed that about 10 million users saw political ads purchased by Kremlin-linked groups. An estimated 44% of the ads were seen before the election, and 56% were seen after, the company said.

Zuckerberg announced last month that Facebook would make it tougher for “bad actors” to spread disinformation on the platform. He said Facebook will put disclosures on political ads in the future specifying who paid for them.

Conaway and Schiff were asked if Facebook should follow the same rules as traditional media organizations, which are required to disclose who paid for campaign ads.

“That will be part of the conversation when we understand what all happened,” Conaway said.

Schiff said he thinks Facebook should be required to follow the same disclosure rules.

“I really do, and this goes beyond the Russia investigation,” Schiff said. “I think that people that are doing political advertising on social media should also be required to make a disclaimer like they do in normal media…It would also help ferret out some of the foreign advertising.”

Neither Conaway nor Schiff said they have evidence at this point to suggest that Americans were involved in helping the Russians target their ads at specific states or voters.

“That’s beyond the scope of our conversations,” Schiff said.

He said he thinks Facebook now understands “the responsibility they have on their own to ferret this material out.”

“They also expressed a very strong desire on their own to get any assistance they can from the intelligence community when they identify foreign bad actors,” Schiff said.

He said he thinks the committee should try to facilitate that assistance with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other intelligence agencies.

“There should be a line of communication,” Schiff said.

More: UT Poll: Facebook faulted for not doing more on Russian ads in 2016 race

More: Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook will give ads linked to Russian government to Congress

More: Twitter removed 200 Russian accounts that targeted Facebook users during election

More: Facebook political ads are coming out of the shadows — why you should care

 

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