Facebook to release Russia ads to Congress amid pressure

Posted: Updated:

By BARBARA ORTUTAY and TOM LOBIANCO
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Facebook will provide the contents of 3,000 ads bought by a Russian agency to congressional investigators, bowing to pressure that it be more forthcoming with information that could shed light on possible interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The social media giant also said it will make political advertising on its platform more "transparent." It will require ads to disclose who paid for them and what other ads they are running at the same time. That's key, because political ads on social media may look different depending on who they're targeted at, a tactic designed to improve their effectiveness.

The moves Thursday come amid growing pressure on the social network from members of Congress, who pushed Facebook to release the ads. Facebook has already handed over the ads to the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is "actively working" with the U.S. government in its ongoing Russia investigations. Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post and live video on Thursday that he has directed his team to provide the ads, created by fake accounts linked to Russia, to Congress.

Facebook's transparency measures are also important. Currently, there's no way for outsiders to track political ads or for recipients to tell who is sponsoring such messages.

The company will hire 250 more people in the next year to work on "election integrity," Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg hinted that the company may not provide much information publicly, saying that the ongoing federal investigation will limit what he can reveal.

"As a general rule, we are limited in what we can discuss publicly about law enforcement investigations, so we may not always be able to share our findings publicly," he said.

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center stressed again on Thursday that the company should make the ads public, "so that everyone can see the nature and extent of the use of Facebook accounts by Russia."

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee have been seeking to bring Facebook executives before their committee since the company first revealed the existence of the ads two weeks ago. But critics say Facebook should go further. They say the company should tell its users how they might have been influenced by outside meddlers.

Zuckerberg did warn that Facebook can't catch all undesirable material before it hits its social network.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you we're going to catch all bad content in our system. We don't check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don't think our society should want us to," Zuckerberg said. "If you break our community standards or the law, then you're going to face consequences afterwards."

He added: "We won't catch everyone immediately, but we can make it harder to try to interfere."

Zuckerberg's move came a day after Twitter confirmed that it will meet next week with staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been scrutinizing the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media during the election. The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, had said the committee wanted to hear from Twitter to learn more about the use of fake accounts and bot networks to spread misinformation.

"Twitter deeply respects the integrity of the election process, a cornerstone of all democracies, and will continue to strengthen our platform against bots and other forms of manipulation that violate our Terms of Service," the company said in a statement.

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LoBianco reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Chad Day contributed to this story form Washington.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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