US lawmakers have reportedly begun pressuring Facebook in connection to the ads that were allegedly purchased by Russians.
The consensus among the intelligence agencies in the US is that Russia conducted an “influence” campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Russia is said to have hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the personal email account of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The data obtained from these hacks were allegedly forwarded to Wikileaks. Russia allegedly played a role in flooding social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter with fake news stories depicting Hillary Clinton negatively.
In May 2017, the Department of Justice (DoJ) appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into the Russian interference and related matters. He is also investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections.
In September 2017, it was reported that Facebook admitted to finding approximately $100,000 worth of ads connected to Russia. Washington Post also reported that the social media platform had turned over all information regarding these to Robert Mueller and his team.
The US Senate, which is also conducting its own independent investigation on the subject, has now trained its sights on Facebook. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has voiced his concerns over the recent revelations. He told ABC News, “We are requesting a lot more information from Facebook . . . there are a lot of unanswered questions.” He also added that there are a lot of issues that still needs to be addressed. He said, “There are issues about what legal process we need to use to get this information from Facebook. But frankly, I am distressed that it has taken us this long to be informed that the Russians had paid for at least $100,000 of ads designed to try to influence our electoral process.”
According to media reports, politicians in Washington are alarmed that the news of Russian ads have emerged so late. Legislators are also reportedly scrutinizing other big technological platforms like Twitter and Google.
Google, has released a statement noting that it has not seen any evidence of suspected Russian propaganda in its ad platform. It stated, “We’re always monitoring for abuse or violations of our policies and we’ve seen no evidence this type of ad campaign was run on our platforms.”
Our assessment is that with the advent of technology and the rise of online platforms, campaigns to spread misinformation and “fake news” will become more potent. The US government is likely to increase its scrutiny of all major online platforms in a bid to arrest this issue.