Senate intel leaders won't release Russian-linked Facebook ads

Garance Franke-Ruta
Senior Politics Editor
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., left, update reporters on the status of their inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, at the Capitol Oct. 4. Burr says the committee has interviewed more than 100 witnesses as part of its investigation and that more work still needs to be done. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

WASHINGTON — The chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that they would welcome Facebook’s making public the 3,000 advertisements turned over to the panel that the company has found were tied to a Russian influence campaign. The committee itself, they said, would not release the ads.

“We don’t release documents provided to our committee, period,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chair of the committee. “Clearly if any of the social media companies would like to do that, we’re fine with them doing it.”

Added Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chair of the committee, “I think at the end of the day it’s important that the public sees these ads.”

Facebook has said it will not release the ads, Business Insider reported Wednesday, citing the ongoing investigation into the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the 2016 election.

Warner said the general principles of transparency governing political advertising on television and radio should provide guidance for Facebook’s political advertising going forward.

“If you have somebody running an ad for you or against you, you ought to be able to at least go down and look at the content,” he said.

New systems would need to be put in place to determine the real identities of those who purchase political advertising online, which he said was expected to grow markedly. “You’re seeing an over 700 percent increase in the use of digital political advertising between 2012 and 2016,” said Warner. “The expectation is that may double or triple again by … the next election cycle because of the ability to target voters.”

Sens. Richard Burr, right, and Mark Warner, left. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“I was concerned at first that some of these social media platform companies did not take this threat seriously enough,” said Warner. “I believe that they are recognizing that threat now. They have provided us with information.”

“We have had incredible access and cooperation by those social media companies that have been in,” added Burr.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have all been invited to appear in a public committee hearing at the start of November, and Facebook told Recode Monday that it was hiring an additional 1,000 people to review and remove political ads.

The 3,000 ads identified thus far may not account for all of Russia’s active measures on Facebook during the election, Warner noted.

“I was concerned on the front end that the first pass was not a thorough enough pass,” he said about Facebook’s accounting.

“The companies are increasingly understanding that their actions need to match their public statements,” he said. At stake was “the integrity of the democratic process.”


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