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Senate report challenges quality of Facebook, Twitter investigations of Russia's Brexit influence

Senate report challenges quality of Facebook, Twitter investigations of Russia's Brexit influence
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A report commissioned by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee challenges the adequacy of Twitter's and Facebook’s investigations into Russian manipulation of their platforms to influence British politics.

The report, titled “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security,” calls into question Facebook's focus on the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked “troll farm” responsible for disseminating content on Facebook intended to sow racial and social division in the U.S. around the time of the 2016 presidential election.

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The report, published Wednesday, said Brexit-related Facebook ads purchased by the Internet Research Agency's account for only “200 total impressions,” which cost it 97 cents.

“In limiting their investigation to just the Internet Research Agency, Facebook missed that it is only one troll farm which ‘has existed within a larger disinformation ecosystem in St. Petersburg,’ including Glavset, an alleged successor of the Internet Research Agency, and the Federal News Agency, a reported propaganda ‘media farm,’ according to Russian investigative journalists,” the report noted.

By comparison, the Internet Research Agency spent at least $100,000 to sway the results of the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. and its posts received tens of millions of views.

The report also approached Twitter’s investigations into the matter with skepticism.

“Twitter representatives reported in November 2017 that the company found only six Tweets on its platform — all generated by RT, which spent roughly $1,000 to promote them,” the report read.

The report cites a study by independent researchers at the University of Edinburgh which found “400 of the Internet Research Agency Twitter accounts that had been active in the U.S. election had also been actively posting about Brexit.”

Additionally, the reported noted that “research conducted by a joint team of experts from the University of California at Berkeley and Swansea University in Wales reportedly identified 150,000 Twitter accounts with various Russian ties that disseminated messages about Brexit before the referendum.”

This discrepancy led one British parliamentarian to call Twitter’s report “completely inadequate.” Top Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRegulators push for 'coordinated' approach to bitcoin trading House funding bill includes bipartisan Medicare reforms Overnight Tech: Mulvaney reportedly froze Equifax hack probe | Dems want new restrictions on Comcast-NBC | NJ gov signs net neutrality order | Senate confirms patent chief MORE (Va.) has made similar criticisms of Twitter in its dealings with congressional investigators about Russian attempts to interfere in the American political process.

Some British politicians have expressed less concern with Russian interference in their elections than Americans have.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said Russian propaganda had “no direct successful influence” in the British referendum to leave the European Union.