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Facebook to turn over thousands of Russian ads to Congress, reversing decision

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Facebook to turn over Russian ad sales from the 2016 election



Facebook announced on Sept. 21 that it would turn over copies of 3,000 political ads brought by Russian accounts during the 2016 election, after previously showing some to congressional investigators.
Facebook told congressional investigators on Sept. 6 that they discovered political ads on its site bought by a Russian company during the 2016 election.
(The Washington Post)

Facebook has decided to turn over to Congress copies of more than 3,000 online political advertisements bought through Russian accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, reversing a decision that had frustrated Capitol Hill investigators, company officials said Thursday.

The company had previously shown some of the ads to investigators but taken back copies before they could be studied carefully, citing concerns over user privacy at the time. Facebook reversed that position Thursday amid rising complaints from Capitol Hill that the company was not cooperating fully with its investigation.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced the decision on Facebook Live Thursday afternoon, citing what the company called “an extensive legal and policy review.” He also announced other initiatives to strengthen the review of advertisements, make information about political advertisers more widely available and work more closely with election officials worldwide.

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“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” Zuckerberg said. “Facebook’s mission is all about giving people a voice and bringing people closer together. Those are deeply democratic values and we’re proud of them. I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for.”

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who had been one of the leading critics of Facebook’s handling of the investigation, praised Facebook’s decision after Zuckerberg’s announcement.

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

The company concluded that it was “vitally important” to cooperate fully with Congress and that the company could do so in a way that didn’t endanger user privacy, according to a blog post by Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch.

“We believe the public deserves a full accounting of what happened in the 2016 election, and we’ve concluded that sharing the ads we’ve discovered, in a manner that is consistent with our obligations to protect user information, can help,” Stretch said.

The blog post also said that “all relevant companies and industries” need to provide access to crucial information and documents.

“We want to do our part,” said Stretch in his blog post.

The Facebook ads were bought, through fake accounts, by the Internet Research Agency, a shadowy troll farm based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Congressional investigators had also complained that they wanted more cooperation from Google and Twitter, both of which carried what independent investigators have concluded was substantial amounts of poltical propaganda on their platforms, some of it emanating from Russia.

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