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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

UK probes Russian social media influence in Brexit vote

The move follows demands in October for an investigation into whether “dark money” played a role in the Brexit referendum.

The UK elections regulator is looking at whether Russia tried to use social media to illegally influence the Brexit referendum campaign.

The UK Electoral Commission is speaking to Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc about who paid for political advertising in the run-up to the June 2016 EU referendum and the May 2017 general election, said Bob Posner, the commission's director of political finance and regulation. Any evidence of illegality would be referred to the police, he added.

The move from the regulator follows demands in October by a Labour Party politician for an investigation into whether “dark money” played a role in the Brexit referendum.

A spokesman from Twitter said the company "recognises that the integrity of the election process itself is integral to the health of a democracy " and would always support formal investigations into election interference " as required." Facebook did not comment.

There are several British government inquiries into possible Russian attempts to influence the Brexit vote. One centres on Arron Banks, a millionaire insurance entrepreneur who funded campaigns for Britain to leave the European Union.

British law forbids anyone not resident in the UK -- other than British citizens living overseas — from buying political advertising. Foreign individuals and entities are not allowed to donate directly to political parties.

The UK data regulator is looking into how personal data was used to target ads during the campaign, and a parliamentary committee has asked to see documents from social media companies pertaining to Russian-linked accounts that may have been active during the referendum campaign.

The British investigations follow revelations about widespread Russian interference in the November 2016 US presidential election. Russia is accused of buying thousands of ads on Facebook and using hundreds of fake accounts on both Facebook and Twitter to promote content aimed at exacerbating "societal divisions," according to the US Senate intelligence committee.