Franken blasts Facebook for accepting rubles for U.S. election ads

Greg Nash

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) grilled a Facebook executive on Tuesday, asking why the company wasn’t able to discover foreign election interference when it had sold political ads to accounts that paid in Russian rubles.

Franken zeroed in on Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on online Russian disinformation campaigns.  

“People are buying ads on your platform with rubles,” Franken said, his voice rising. “They’re political ads. You put billions of data points together all the time — that’s what I hear that these platforms do.”
Stretch admitted that the company was policing advertisers for other abuses and that it failed to connect the dots on the two variables.
“Senator, it’s a signal we should have been alert to, and in hindsight it’s one we missed,” Stretch said.
But despite repeated attempts by Franken, Stretch would not commit to saying Facebook would stop accepting foreign currencies for U.S. political ads.
“I can tell you that we’re not going to permit political advertising by foreign actors,” Stretch said. “The reason I’m hesitating on foreign currency is that it’s relatively easy for bad actors to switch currency. It’s a signal, but it’s not enough — we have to sweep more broadly.”
Franken’s comments were made as lawmakers begin a series of hearings examining whether Russian actors used social media and digital ad networks to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Google, Facebook and Twitter all sent their general counsels to testify on the matter before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

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