- Facebook and Twitter have been questioned by the UK’s election watchdog and a committee of MPs as part of ongoing probes into alleged Russian meddling in the Brexit vote.
- Facebook and Twitter will hand over details about Russian-funded ads and Russian posts to the commission and to MPs in the coming weeks.
- According to comments from Facebook’s head of policy, the watchdog has questioned Google as part of its probe.
- Google has stayed quiet during the furore around online Russian interference in Brexit, but was similarly probed over election interference in the US.
The UK’s election watchdog has written to Google as part of its probe into whether Russia used online platforms to interfere with the Brexit vote last June.
The Electoral Commission is already probing Facebook and Twitter, amid suggestions that Russian actors used bots and other tools to influence the way Britons voted. Now it looks like Google is part of the probe too.
Facebook, in a letter to MPs, revealed that it had already received a letter from the Electoral Commission, and mentioned that Google had also received a letter.
UK policy chief Simon Milner wrote: “We have also been contacted by the Electoral Commission’s Head of Regulation as they carry out their work looking at possible Russian interference in the Brexit referendum. We understand that similar letters have been sent to relevant officers in Google and Twitter.”
- Shona Ghosh/Business Insider
The commission confirmed it had written to Google to Business Insider. Google did not respond to a request for comment.
The search giant has been relatively quiet over any potential role its platforms may have played in Brexit interference, but it revealed to the US Congress in October that Russian accounts did buy ads relating to the US election on YouTube and Gmail. Google told Wired in early November it would co-operate with any probes.
Facebook’s letter was in response to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s select committee demanding the firm hand over details over any ads bought by Russian-linked accounts relating to Brexit.
The Culture committee also wanted details of pages set up by Russian accounts, and an understand of how much Russian-controlled accounts paid for ads.
Twitter also responded to the committee’s demands, after multiple reports that Russian-controlled bots spread misinformation and xenophobic messaging in the run-up to Brexit.
Policy chief Nick Pickles wrote: “We are currently undertaking investigations into these questions and intend to share our findings in the coming weeks.
“It is important to note that not all automated accounts are bad, whether posting air quality sensor readings or posting details of Wikipedia edits, while not all high activity accounts are bots. Equally, given Twitter’s central control – users choosing to follow or unfollow an account to curate what appears in their timeline- is a robust defence against low-quality automated accounts.”
Pickles laid out a lengthy defence for Twitter, suggesting that bot activity had little impact for users. He said Twitter largely screens out spammy content, meaning most people wouldn’t have seen Russian bot activity anyway.
You can read Twitter’s letter in full here: