Facebook says it’s investigating foreign influence on its platform

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Facebook says it is looking into foreign actors using its platform to spread false information about U.S. politics after it revealed that a pro-Kremlin group had purchased ads on its site during the 2016 election cycle.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Hill on Thursday that the company “will continue to investigate” instances of hoax stories being spread on the website as well as foreign actors buying ads to influence U.S. politics.

Facebook’s probe comes after it disclosed Wednesday that fake accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, which has been described as a pro-Kremlin “troll farm,” purchased $100,000 in political advertisements on its platform. 

The revelation prompted a response from the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (Va.) who said on Thursday that Facebook’s disclosure could lead to more regulation of social media ads.

“An American can still figure out what content is being used on TV advertising. … But in social media there’s no such requirement,” Warner said. “There may be a reform process here. I actually think the social media companies would not oppose, because I think Americans, particularly when it comes to elections, ought to be able to know if there is foreign-sponsored content coming into their electoral process.”

A Facebook spokesperson in response to Warner’s idea said on Thursday that the company is “open to reviewing any specific Congressional proposal.”

Facebook says that it will continue to cooperate with authorities, and on Wednesday, turned the details of the agency’s ads over to investigators. The company declined to comment on which entities it is working with.

“I think we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Warner said Thursday morning.

Facebook’s role in the 2016 presidential campaign has drawn scrutiny as critics note the proliferation of misinformation that’s spread on the platform. Mark Zuckerberg initially downplayed Facebook’s role in the matter, saying that the platform influencing the election was a “pretty crazy idea.”

The company has since staunchly cracked down on fake stories and introduced new features and updated its algorithms to detect and combat “fake news.”

Warner said Twitter plans to give Congress a similar analysis of Russian activity on its social media platform. And Google said Thursday that it does not have evidence that its advertising platforms were used by a Russian propaganda campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

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