The Russia-funded political ads that ran on Facebook during the 2016 US election will be shown to the public, members of the House Intelligence Committee said today. US House and Senate committees are investigating ads that ran on Facebook, Twitter, Google and other platforms in an effort to determine how Kremlin-backed trolls organised their misinformation campaigns and whether the ads influenced the outcome of the US election.
Rep Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Photo: AP
The announcement came after Congressional staffers met with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. The Facebook executive is doing damage control in DC this week after the company was criticised for not discovering the ads sooner and not making them publicly available.
Following the meeting, Rep Mike Conaway, the Republican leading the panel’s investigation, and Rep Adam Schiff, the panel’s ranking Democrat, spoke briefly with reporters. Asked about the possibility of releasing the ads, Conaway said that his “personal bias” was to release the ads “as quickly as we can”.
“We’ve asked for Facebook’s help to help scrub any personally identifiable information,” Schiff added, “but it’s our hope that when they conclude that, then we can release them publicly.” Gizmodo confirmed Facebook offered to address any privacy concerns related to the ads during Wednesday’s meeting.
According to Conaway, Sandberg told the lawmakers that Facebook is working on every solution it can to “help American voters” understand “what the propaganda is they may or may not be reading”. But ultimately, he said, it is the voters who are responsible for deciding where to turn for information, and whether to trust or question it, while deciding which candidate to vote for.
Asked if he believed political ads on social media should contain the same disclaimers as those that run on television, Conaway showed reluctance, telling the reporters, “That will be a part of the conversation when we understand exactly what all happened.”
Schiff took a stand, however, saying that, even “beyond the Russian investigation”, people engaged in political advertising on Facebook and other online platforms should be required to include disclaimers that identify who pays for the ads.
When asked if any Americans might’ve been involved in the placement of Facebook ads on Russia’s behalf, Conaway left open the possibility, saying he had no way of answering the question. “That’s beyond the scope of our conversation today,” Schiff said.
Facebook says it linked $US100,000 ($128,373) worth of ad buys to fake accounts originating in Russia. The company is providing the ads to Congress after initially claiming it could not share them because of privacy concerns. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the reversal in late September, along with a plan to more closely monitor political ads on Facebook.
Although Facebook agreed to share the ads with Congress, and admits they reached as many as 10 million Americans, the company has remained resistant to the idea of publishing them publicly — a decision that’s been criticised by Sen Mark Warner and other Democratic leaders. Top lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating the Russian ads, declined to comment.