Facebook is finally investigating whether Russia interfered with the Brexit vote

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Facebook will investigate whether Russian groups bought ads on its platform to influence the outcome of the UK’s vote to leave the EU in 2016.
  • Facebook has bowed to pressure from British politicians, who have criticised the company for not doing enough to investigate the spread of fake news around Brexit on its platform.
  • In December, the company found that one Russian group had spent just $1 on ads relating to Brexit – but critics said there was more to find.
  • Google and Twitter are under scrutiny for being potential conduits for Russian meddling in elections.

Facebook is finally launching a standalone investigation into whether Russian groups used its platform to spread misinformation in the run-up to the Brexit vote in 2016.

The firm will look into whether it can “identify any coordinated activity of the spread of misinformation around the EU referendum” that it hasn’t already found.

This is the strongest hint yet from Facebook that it thinks Russian meddling took place on its platform ahead of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

Facebook’s European policy boss Simon Milner said the investigation would take weeks, and asked for additional intelligence from the government.

The investigation is in response to demands from UK politicians tasked with examining the growing problem of fake news and its spread on social networks. The culture select committee has been quizzing Facebook, Google, and Twitter how Russian groups may have bought ads on their platforms to divide and influence British voters.

Facebook had said in December that a single Russian group had spent just $1 on ads relating to Brexit in the run-up to the referendum. That was in a submission to the Electoral Commission, the UK’s election watchdog.

But Damian Collins, the MP leading the select committee’s fake news enquiry, said that Facebook hadn’t bothered to do a full investigation. Instead, it only identified ads from accounts already identified during a separate US investigation into misinformation during the US presidential election.

Collins said on Wednesday: “I welcome the fact that Facebook have now responded to the Committee’s request, and will investigate whether the involvement of Russian agencies in the Brexit referendum campaign, may have come from sources other than those previously identified as having been actively connected with the US Presidential election in 2016.

“It is right that companies like Facebook should initiate their own research into issues like this, where there is such clear public concern, and not just act in intelligence that has been passed to them. They are best placed to investigate activity on their platform.”

Milner wrote in his letter to Collins: “You expressed a view that there may be other similar coordinated activity from Russia that we had not yet identified through our investigation and asked for us to continue our investigatory work. We have considered your request and can confirm that our investigatory team is now looking to see if we can identify other similar clusters engaged in coordinated activity around the Brexit referendum that was not identified previously.”

You can read the full letter from Facebook’s European policy chief here: