Facebook says Russian groups spent less than £1 on Brexit advertising
LONDON — Facebook said Russian-backed groups spent less than £1 on advertising linked to Britain’s referendum last year to leave the European Union, according to a letter sent to the country’s Electoral Commission.
The announcement follows calls by U.K. authorities for the social networking giant to make public how Russian groups, notably the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), may have used Facebook to potentially sway voters in the 2016 Brexit vote.
It also comes after the American tech giant said that the same Russian group, which has close ties to the Kremlin, had spent roughly $100,000 on 3,000 ads between June 2015 and May 2017 across 470 Facebook accounts and pages connected to the U.S. presidential campaign and its aftermath.
A similar level of Russian involvement in the Brexit vote, according to Facebook’s analysis, did not exist.
“We have determined that these accounts associated with the I.R.A. spent a small amount of money on advertisements that delivered to U.K. audiences,” Facebook said in the letter sent to the British Electoral Commission, a copy of which was seen by POLITICO.
“This amount resulted in three advertisements (each of which were also targeted to U.S. audiences and concerned immigration, not the EU referendum) delivering approximately 200 impressions to U.K. viewers over four days in May 2016,” the social networking giant added.
Facebook said its internal investigation focused on the potential role of the IRA. It did not look at other domestic and foreign efforts to sway British public opinion ahead of last year’s referendum.
Not everyone was happy with the social network’s disclosure. Damian Collins, a British MP who is leading an investigation into the role of fake news, said Facebook merely focused on the activities of the IRA, and not other possible accounts linked to the Russian government.
“It would appear that no work has been done by Facebook to look for Russian activity around the EU referendum, other than from funded advertisements from those accounts that had already been identified as part of the U.S. Senate’s investigation,” he said.
The company and other social networking companies have come under criticism from U.K. officials for their potential role in spreading propaganda — mostly from domestic groups — ahead of the series of votes and referenda in Britain in recent years.
Last month, Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of meddling in other countries’ elections, as well as spreading fake news and other digital misinformation to undermine democracies across the West. She did not specifically mention Facebook in her speech.
“I have a very simple message for Russia,” she told a London audience. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”
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