Facebook says its investigation into alleged Russian attempts to influence the EU referendum has found only three adverts linked to a propaganda group.
The Electoral Commission had asked the firm – and fellow social site Twitter – for information on any Russian attempts to interfere with the Brexit vote through the use of political adverts on the site.
The social network said less than one dollar was spent on delivering adverts by accounts linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), which were seen by no more than 200 people. It follows an investigation in the US earlier this year which ruled hundreds of Russia-linked Facebook accounts had attempted to influence the US presidential election.
“We strongly support the Commission’s efforts to regulate and enforce political campaign finance rules in the United Kingdom, and we take the Commission’s request very seriously,” Facebook said in a letter to the Commission.
“Further to your request, we have examined whether any of the identified Internet Research Agency pages or account profiles funded advertisements to audiences in the United Kingdom during the regulated period for the EU referendum.
“We have determined that these accounts associated with the IRA spent a small amount of money (97 US cents, or 82 Euro cents) on advertisements that delivered to UK audiences during that time.
“This amount resulted in three advertisements (each of which were also targeted to US audiences and concerned immigration, not the EU referendum) delivering approximately 200 impressions to UK viewers over four days in May 2016.”
A report in January by the US national director of intelligence ruled that Russia had meddled in the 2016 US election, and Facebook found approximately 470 accounts linked to the agency had spent around $100,000 (€85,000) on more than 3,000 adverts. These adverts were run between June 2015 and May 2017.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has previously accused Russia of spreading fake news and misinformation online as part of a campaign to “sow discord in the West”.
However, British chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Damian Collins MP, which had previously requested information from the social media giants over Russian meddling, was disappointed with Facebook’s response.
“Facebook responded only with regards to funded advertisements to audiences in the UK from the 470 accounts and pages run by the Russian based Internet Research Agency, which had been active during the US election,” he wrote on Twitter.
“It would appear that no work has been done by Facebook to look for other fake accounts and pages that could be linked to Russian backed agencies and which were active during the EU referendum, as I requested.
“Are we to believe that Russian backed targeting of voters through social media with fake news was limited only to Twitter during the EU referendum, when both Twitter and Facebook had been used by them in the USA during the Presidential election.”
Mr Collins added that he met with Facebook today to ask again for a “full response” to the select committee, as part of its inquiry into fake news. “This includes looking for Russian activity linked to the 2017 General Election, as well as the EU referendum,” he said.