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Facebook may face Congress panel over Russian ads

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has said that it is likely to ask representatives from Facebook to give public testimony about activity by Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democrat Senator Mark Warner, who comprise the bipartisan leadership of the committee, had said they were holding discussions with other chairmen of Congressional committees about a public hearing to detail election-related activity by foreigners on social media platforms.

Burr, who heads a committee inquiring into Russian activity during the poll, said he was inclined to hold such a hearing but was working out the scope and jurisdiction and also who needed to be called to testify.

The news comes a few days after Facebook admitted that some of its revenue during the election period had come from what appears to politically motivated fraud committed by a Russian firm. The company said it had identified about 500 “inauthentic” accounts responsible for US$100,000 in ad spending that it believed had Russian connections. 

In an article headlined "Make Mark Zuckerberg testify", The Intercept said that Facebook had been asked the following queries by various media outlets after the disclosure:

  • What was the content of the Russian-backed ads in question?
  • How many people saw these ads? How many people clicked them?
  • What were the Facebook pages associated with the ads? How many members did they have?
  • What specific targeting criteria (race, age, and most importantly, location) did the Russian ads choose?

The company told The Intercept: "We are not commenting beyond the blog post at this time."

The website pointed out that this response was similar to that which the social media giant had dished out when asked about the fact that its American advertising audience in certain cases exceeded the actual number of people.

To this, The Intercept said, Facebook had retorted that its numbers “are not designed to match population or census estimates. We are always working to improve our estimates".

Burr was quoted by the WSJ as saying: "Now that we've opened up this avenue of social media, it's of great interest for us to get a full accounting from everyone who operates in the space if in fact foreign money found its way in to finance any of the efforts on social media."

Claims of Russian interference in the US election have been rife ever since Donald Trump unexpectedly defeated Hillary Clinton.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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