Facebook gives Russian-linked ads to Congress

Facebook 'designed for information warfare?'
Facebook 'designed for information warfare?'

Facebook provided Congress with copies of 3,000 Russian-bought political ads on Monday, giving lawmakers a clearer picture into how a pro-Kremlin troll farm used social media to meddle in American politics.

Facebook is not planning to release the ads to the public, and will not commit to sharing publicly greater details about the content of the ads and who they reached.

The move comes nearly one month after Facebook representatives informed lawmakers about the ads, and a week-and-a-half after CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to hand over them over amid mounting pressure from Democratic Senators.

Sources with knowledge of the ads have told CNN they include Black Lives Matter posts; posts depicting refugees as rapists; and posts promoting gun rights and the Second Amendment, to name a few.

This week, CNN reported that at least one Black Lives Matter post was geographically targeted through Facebook's ad system toward the cities of Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. CNN also reported that one campaign called "Blacktivist" used both Facebook and Twitter accounts in an attempt to incite outrage, especially over police shootings of African-Americans.

Related: Exclusive: Fake black activist accounts linked to Russian government

Sources at Facebook and on Capitol Hill say the apparent goal of the Russian buyers of these ads was to amplify political discord in the U.S. and fuel an atmosphere of divisiveness and chaos, especially during the presidential election. Facebook's review of Russian efforts on its platform focused on a timeframe from June 2015 to May 2017.

Facebook's decision to give the ads to Congress -- including the Senate and House Intelligence committees and the Judiciary Committee -- means the pressure will now be on Congress to release the ads to the public.

Congressional sources said Sunday night they believe lawmakers will make at least some of the ads public.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Monday that he hoped to release "a representative sampling of these ads" next month, following the public hearing with Facebook and other tech companies.

Schiff also said he was "committed to making all of these ads public as soon as possible, working closely with Facebook to address any privacy considerations."

But Sen. Richard Burr, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said release of the documents "won't happen out of the Senate Intelligence Committee"

"We don't release documents," Burr told CNN on Monday. "It's a bad precedent to set for anybody else that would produce documents."

Asked about Facebook giving Congress permission to release the ads, Burr said, "If they give us permission then they should release it themselves."

Facebook has already handed copies of the ads and information about the relevant accounts over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has also called on representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet, the Google parent company, to testify in a public hearing on November 1. None of the companies has said if it will attend the hearing.

Twitter told Congress last week that it found and took action on roughly 200 accounts on its service after determining they were linked to Russia and sought to interfere in American politics. Twitter only identified accounts that were linked to the accounts identified by Facebook.

As with the Facebook accounts, the Twitter accounts sought to amplify political discord by highlighting hot-button political issues like race and immigration.

Related: Twitter tells Congress it took action on 200 Russia-linked accounts

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said the ads Facebook has disclosed to date represent just the "tip of the iceberg" of Russians' full election interference via social media. Warner and his fellow Senators have criticized both Facebook and Twitter for the limited scope of their findings.

Google is conducting an internal investigation into Russian meddling on its platform, through both advertising and use of YouTube, a Google source with knowledge of the matter said. Google will meet with the intelligence committees in the days ahead, the source said.

-- CNN's Manu Raju, Jim Sciutto and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting.


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