Facebook says Russia did try to meddle in Brexit vote

Facebook says Russia did try to meddle in Brexit vote
From TechCrunch - November 14, 2017

BuzzFeedhas obtained a statement from Facebook in which the tech giant admits, for the first time, that some Russia-linked accounts may have used its platform to try to interfere in the UKs European Union referendum vote in June 2016.

Which means Russian agents werent just using Facebook to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election, and in other recent elections in the Westsuch as those in France and Germany.

Elections are of course a huge deal but the result can at least be reversed at the ballot box in time. The in/out Brexit referendum in the UK was no such standard vote. And there is no standard process for reversing the result.

So if Kremlin agents also used Facebook to influence people in the UK to vote for Brexit that would be hugely significantand further evidence that social medias connective tissue can be used to drive and inflame societal divisions.

To date, we have not observed that the known, coordinated clusters in Russia engaged in significant coordination of ad buys or political misinformation targeting the Brexit vote, a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed in a carefully worded statement.

Which begs the question how much Russian Facebook activity did target the Brexit vote? We asked Facebook how many socially divisive Russian-backed ads ran before Brexit. Facebook declined to comment.

While its claim not to have found significant coordination of Russian activity ahead of the Brexit vote might sound like case closed on the EU referendum front, the company has consistently sought to play down the impact of Facebook-distributed Russian misinformationwith CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially describing it as a pretty crazy idea that fake news could have influenced voters in the US election.

Nearly half a year later, after conducting an internal investigation, Facebook conceded there had been a Russian disinformation campaign during the US electionbut claimed the reach of the operation was statistically very small in comparison with overall political activity and engagement.

Then in Septemberanother tidbit came out when it said it now believed potential pro-Kremlin entities could have spent up to $150,000 on its platform to buy 3,000 ads to between 2015 and 2017.It said the ads were tied to 470 accountssome linked to a known Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency.

It also agreed to share the Russian backed US political ads with congressional investigators looking into US election-related disinformation. Though it rejected calls to make all the ads public.

Finally, at the end of last month, about a year after its CEOs denial of the potency of political disinformation on his mega platform,Facebook admitted Russian-backed content could have reached as many as 126 million people in the US.

It now estimates the number of pieces of divisive content at 80,000, after being asked by congressional investigators to report not just direct Russian-bought ads but organic posts, images, events and more, which can also of course become viral vehicles of disinformation on Facebooks algorithmically driven platform.

So theres a reason to be cautious about accepting at face value the companys claim now that Russian Brexit meddling existed on its platform but was not significant.

Giving a speech yesterday, the UK prime minister set out in no uncertain tones her conviction that Russia has been using social media platforms to try to interfere with Western democracies, directly accusing Vladimir Putin of seeking to sow social division by weaponizing information and planting fake stories.


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