Facebook Is in the Hot Seat From Both Dems and GOP on Russian Ads

Social network under pressure to reveal more details on severity of fake ads

Facebook is starting its week off in the crosshairs of both major American political parties, as concerns over its ad service and the ability of Russian propagandists to exploit it continues to draw more questions than answers.

Democratic congressman Adam Schiff called for the company to testify before Congress in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Schiff, who added he is “distressed that it has taken us this long to be informed that the Russians had paid for at least $100,000 of ads designed to try to influence our electoral process.” Schiff said Facebook and other major tech companies “need to come and testify before Congress because there’s a lot we need to know about this.”

Earlier this month, Facebook revealed what had been reported by Time months before: Kremlin-tied accounts had purchased $100,000 worth of ads during and after the 2016 election. The social network said “about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies” purchased about 3,000 Facebook ads between June 2015 and May 2017, before shutting them down. Rather than specific pro-Hillary or pro-Trump ads, the fake accounts targeted divisive social issues, like immigration, gun control and race.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is also looking to develop legislation to improve online ads. A Warner rep told Axios on Monday: “As more and more dollars are being spent on these digital platforms, we may need legislation to require more disclosure about political ads running on social media, the way we do for television ads. … [T]he ads you may see on Facebook are not public and are targeted narrowly to users based on different variables — making disclosure and transparency even more vital.”

At the same time, Facebook has become a key figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Facebook turned over more detailed information to the special counsel than it had to Congress, including copies of the ads and data on how they targeted users, according to the Wall Street Journal. This, in part, spurred Schiff to push for the social network to be more forthcoming with Congress.

Republicans aren’t sitting on the sidelines, either. GOP Senator Richard Burr said last week in Washington it’s “probably more a question of when,” rather than if, Facebook will testify before Congress. “Now that we’ve opened up this avenue of social media, it’s of great interest to us to get a full accounting from everybody who operates in this space, if in fact foreign money found its way in to finance any of the efforts on social media,” said Burr.

Not looking to miss out on a hot-button issue, Republicans have engaged consulting experts to see how it should be handled in Congress, according to Axios. The issue is popular among President Donald Trump’s base, who look at Silicon Valley with a wary eye regarding immigration and left-leaning social policies.

With pressure mounting on Facebook to be more transparent in its handling of fake ads, many key questions remain unanswered to the public and Congress: how Facebook will safeguard against baseless propaganda heading into the 2018 and 2020 elections; what the fake ads looked like; and the unclear scope of how pervasive Russia’s fake ads were (which potentially hit 70 million Americans).

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