Downplaying claims that Kremlin-backed groups helped swing the Brexit vote in 2016, Facebook has told EU investigators that less than one pound was spent by Russians on ads posted on its platform during the referendum, The Telegraph reported on Thursday. On the other hand, Twitter disclosed that Russian-backed accounts spent $1,031.99 to buy six Brexit-related ads on its platform.
Facebook responded to the UK Electoral Commission, saying the Internet Research Agency, a shadowy organisation with links to the Russian government, spent just $0.97 (73 pence) during the EU referendum campaign. “Damian Collins, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, accused Facebook of failing to probe the true extent of Russian meddling,” the report added.
Collins said Facebook “had only identified adverts from pages that had already been discovered in the US investigation, and that studies showing thousands of Twitter bots had attempted to disrupt the vote were strong evidence that there was Russian meddling”.
Earlier in November, a group of data scientists found 156,252 Russian accounts on Twitter which mentioned #Brexit and posted nearly 45,000 messages related to the EU referendum in the 48 hours around the vote.
In the US, Facebook, Twitter and Google are facing intense fake news scrutiny after disclosing the details about the presence of Russian political ads, tweets and posts on their platforms during the presidential election in 2016. The Kremlin-linked Russian organisations purchased more than $100,000 of ads on social media platforms during the 2016 US presidential election.
Facebook told US Congress in November that 126 million of its users in the US might have seen ads produced and circulated by Russian operatives. According to Collins, “no work has been done by Facebook to look for Russian activity around the EU referendum”.
Meanwhile, Twitter told the Electoral Commission that the ads in question were purchased during the regulated period for political campaigning in the June 2016 EU Referendum — specifically from April 15 to June 23, 2016, TechCrunch reported. British Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia of meddling in the elections and planting fake stories.
According to data scientists from Swansea University in Wales and the University of California, Berkeley, over 150,000 Russian accounts who were posting about the Ukrainian conflict swiftly started tweeting about Brexit in days leading up to the 2016 vote. Political events like the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election have observed the use of social bots in spreading fake news and misinformation, the data scientists observed.