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Facebook Turns Over Russia-Linked Ads to Congress

By Published on .

Facebook is turning over to Congress copies of political ads that appear to have been placed on the platform by accounts linked to Russia, company founder Mark Zuckerberg said on Facebook Live Thursday afternoon, and plans new steps to protect election integrity.

Facebook said earlier this month that accounts likely tied to Russia had bought ads to boost their reach on the platform before last year's presidential election. The company said then that it had traced ads back to a ring of of 470 accounts with suspected links to Russia. Those accounts spent about $100,000 over a two-year period to increase the reach of 3,000 posts.

"For awhile, we had found no evidence of fake accounts linked to Russia running ads," Zuckerberg said Thursday. "When we recently uncovered this activity, we provided that information to the special council. We also briefed Congress."

Critics have argued that Facebook needs to tell the public and Congress more about exactly what the ads involved said, where they ran and to whom they were targeted. Facebook countered that it does not disclose information about content and users lightly.

Zuckerberg said he directed his team Thursday morning to provide the ads that the company had found to Congress and said the company is conducting a "thorough review" into what happened.

"We're looking to foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states as well as other organizations like the campaigns to further our understanding of how they used our tools," he said.

Zuckerberg outlined nine ways Facebook plans to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.

"We're going to make political advertising more transparent," he said.

When someone buys political ads on TV, they're required to disclose who paid for them. However, he said, you still don't know if you're seeing the same messages as everyone else.

"We're going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency," he said. "Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we'll also make it so you can visit an advertiser's page and see what ads they're currently running to any audience on Facebook."

He said that feature will be rolled out in the coming months. He did not say how long ads will be considered "current" and remain available for view after their initial run.

Another step: Strengthening the company's ad review process for political ads.

"It has always been against our policies to use any of our tools in a way that break the law," Zuckerberg said. "We have many controls already in place to prevent this, but we could do more. Most ads bought programatically through our apps and website without an advertiser ever speaking to someone at Facebook. That's what happened here. But even without our employees directly involved in the sales, we can do better."

Zuckerberg said the company won't be able to catch all content in its system, since "we don't check what people say before they say it," but that users breaking community standards or the law will "face consequences afterward."

He added that the company plans to add more than 250 employees to double the team working on election integrity, and said the company will expand partnerships with elections commissions around the world.

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch shared additional details about the decision in a blog post that went up as Zuckerberg spoke.

"The questions that have arisen go to the integrity of U.S. elections," he wrote. "And the limited information Congress and the intelligence community have shared with us to date suggests that efforts to compromise the 2016 election were varied and sophisticated — and that understanding those efforts requires a united effort, from across the technology, intelligence and political communities. We believe the public deserves a full accounting of what happened in the 2016 election, and we've concluded that sharing the ads we've discovered, in a manner that is consistent with our obligations to protect user information, can help."

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