Facebook to turn over Russian 2016 election ads to Congress

Facebook has decided to turn over to congressional investigators copies of roughly 3,000 advertisements purchased by Russian-linked groups during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The company confirmed Thursday afternoon that it would release details associated with the advertisements, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlining other steps the company is taking to step up transparency for ads.

“We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election,” Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch said in a post.

“That is an assessment that can be made only by investigators with access to classified intelligence and information from all relevant companies and industries — and we want to do our part.”


Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOn The Money: US tops 100,000 coronavirus deaths with no end in sight | How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response | Tenants fear mass evictions How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response Grenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who has been a leading critic of Facebook's handling of the probe into Russian activity on its platform, called the move a "necessary first step."

“Important & absolutely necessary first step. The American people deserve to know the truth about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election,” Warner tweeted.

Zuckerberg said the release was only one of the steps the company is taking to make the platform less vulnerable for those looking to use it as a tool for election interference.

“We will continue our investigation into what happened on Facebook in this election. We may find more, and if we do, we will continue to work with the government,” Zuckerberg said during a Facebook Live.

Zuckerberg noted that the company would be expanding its analysis of election interference into other former Soviet countries — something that Warner has been pressing it to do. He also said that Facebook will push to make its political ads more transparent. 

“Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser's page and see the ads they're currently running to any audience on Facebook,” he said.

Facebook will also devote more resources to its security team and double the number of staff on its election integrity team, Zuckerberg said.

“I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy,” he said. “That’s not what we stand for.”

Facebook said its decision to turn over copies of the ads to Congress came after “an extensive legal and policy review," noting that federal law "places strict limitations on the disclosure of account information."

The company has previously cited federal privacy laws for its delay in releasing more information about the Russian-linked advertisements to congressional investigators.

Meanwhile, Facebook had given more details to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team for its probe of Russia's interference in the 2016 election and any Russian ties to President Trump's campaign.

Facebook did not mention releasing further details on the matter to the public, which some lawmakers have pushed for.

The social media company revealed earlier this month that Russian actors purchased $100,000 in political ads during the 2016 presidential campaign, but has remained tight-lipped about additional details.

Facebook has been criticized by lawmakers for not revealing enough information about the extent of Russian activity on its platform to potentially influence the election.

“I question whether Facebook has put near the resources they need into getting us all the facts,” Warner told reporters last week.

Warner’s counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffPelosi pulls vote on FISA bill after Trump veto threat Hillicon Valley: House FISA bill in jeopardy | Democrats drop controversial surveillance measure | GOP working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections Democrats drop controversial surveillance amendment MORE (D-Calif.), had similarly called for more details on the ad buys.

Warner and Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrFISA 'reform': Groundhog Day edition Rubio: Coronavirus conspiracy theories could be used in foreign election misinformation campaigns Justice Department closing stock investigations into Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence panel, say they plan to have Facebook, and potentially other companies, testify on the matter in the fall.

Twitter has also received scrutiny. A company spokesperson told The Hill on Thursday that it will meet with Senate Intelligence Committee staff over its inquiry of Russian interference in the 2016 race.

The spokesperson declined to comment on if it has found evidence of Russian influence on its platform.

Updated: 4:45 p.m.