Facebook announced Thursday it will turn over to Congress more than 3,000 political ads that were bought during the 2016 president election and linked to Russian accounts. The move, announced by CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook, comes as evidence continues to grow that Russian-affiliated accounts were able to manipulate the site in a variety of different ways to target American voters. Shady Russian accounts have been known to try to sow division and disorder, but during the election they didn’t stop there. A Russian Facebook page called “Being Patriotic,” for example, was able to organize more than a dozen Trump rallies in Florida. Recently, Facebook has shut down hundreds of fake accounts posing as American activists run by a Russian firm linked to the Kremlin. Facebook also admitted it allowed a pro-Kremlin Russian “troll farm” to buy $100,000 worth of ads to target voters during the 2016 election and beyond.
The scope of Russia’s influence on the social media network suddenly appeared to be far more pervasive and Facebook struggled to respond to criticism of its permissiveness and calls for greater transparency. The company balked at handing over too much of its ad data citing concerns for user privacy, but on Thursday changed course offering to turn over the ads to investigators. “The integrity of our elections is fundamental to democracy around the world,” Zuckerberg said. “That’s why we’ve built teams dedicated to working on election integrity and preventing governments from interfering in the elections of other nations… We are looking into foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states, as well as organizations like the campaigns, to further our understanding of how they used our tools.”
Zuckerberg also outlined policy changes to increase security and oversight of political ads, particularly propaganda, and create greater transparency when a political ad shows up in your timeline.
When someone buys political ads on TV or other media, they’re required by law to disclose who paid for them. But you still don’t know if you’re seeing the same messages as everyone else. So we’re going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency. Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser’s page and see the ads they’re currently running to any audience on Facebook. We will roll this out over the coming months, and we will work with others to create a new standard for transparency in online political ads.
“[W]e are in a new world. It is a new challenge for internet communities to deal with nation states attempting to subvert elections,” Zuckerberg said. “But if that’s what we must do, we are committed to rising to the occasion.”