x

Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Facebook agrees to widen probe of Russian meddling in the Brexit vote

Facebook's head of policy in Britain vowed the company would now search for "clusters engaged in coordinated activity around the Brexit referendum"

Thousands of fake accounts were shut down by Facebook ahead of last year’s French and German elections / Reuters
Thousands of fake accounts were shut down by Facebook ahead of last year’s French and German elections / Reuters

British lawmakers probing possible Russian interference in the Brexit referendum revealed on Wednesday that Facebook had agreed to broaden its own investigation into fake news around the vote, after the social media platform's initial efforts drew criticism.

The House of Commons' Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee said Simon Milner, the social media giant's head of policy in Britain, had vowed the company would now search for "clusters engaged in coordinated activity around the Brexit referendum" that appeared to have originated in Russia.

Mr Milner said security experts would begin their investigation "promptly", but that it may take several weeks to produce results.

The commitment, detailed in a letter to committee chair Damian Collins, follows demands from members of parliament (MPs) for Facebook and Twitter to provide further information on alleged Russian social media meddling in the run-up to the June 2016 referendum.

"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 on intelligence that has been passed to them," Mr Collins said in a statement.

"They are best placed to investigate activity on their platform."

_______________

Read more:

Calls for a UK 'fake news' law

Czechs to elect new president amid Russian meddling concerns

_______________

Mr Collins had previously criticised Facebook for doing "no work" in its initial probe of Russia's alleged disinformation campaign.

The UK Electoral Commission had asked the company to look at accounts identified as trolls and propagandists employed by Russian company Internet Research Agency, which interfered in the US presidential election.

Facebook concluded last month that their impact in Britain was limited because they had spent so little on adverts before the referendum.

But Mr Collins' sceptical committee asked the company to look again.

In his letter to the MPs, Milner said Facebook believed the Russia-linked accounts "seemed to be the most likely area" to find evidence of meddling in Britain, and agreed to look deeper into records.

Mr Collins added in his statement: "I look forward to seeing the results of this investigation, and I'm sure we will want to question Facebook about this when we know the outcome."

Executives from the platform, as well as from Twitter and Google, are due to give evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into fake news in February, when MPs will visit America for the occasion.