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No further evidence of Russian meddling in Brexit vote, Facebook says

Facebook has told Parliament that it has not uncovered any new evidence of Russian tampering in the 2016 EU referendum, the BBC has reported.

MPs requested that the world’s largest social media company take a second look at whether there was any organised activity beyond the three immigration-focused adverts found to be connected to Russian accounts in December 2017. The adverts were linked to the “Internet Research Group”: an organisation engaged in influence operations and with strong links to Kremlin allies.

The adverts were boosted with spending of less than $1 (75p) and ran for four days in the UK in the month ahead of the referendum. Facebook reported in December 2017 that the adverts collected gathered just 200 views.

However, the House of Commons Digital and Media Committee requested that Facebook re-examine its records.

Now, Facebook has confirmed that it could not identify any further evidence of a coordinated Kremlin-backed effort to influence the vote using social media.

“Our investigators looked for co-ordinated activity tied to Russia which pertained to the EU referendum, in the form of ads delivered to people in the UK in the run-up to the vote,” Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, wrote in a letter to the Chair of the Committee.

“The investigation team found no additional co-ordinated Russian linked accounts or pages delivering ads to the UK regarding the referendum during the relevant period beyond the minimal activity we previously disclosed.”

“These findings are in contrast with the results of our investigation into organised Russian activities targeting the US […] the results of our US investigation comport with the recent indictments issued against several Russian individuals and entities. We are not aware of any comparable findings or investigations of this nature by UK authorities.”

Milner added that Facebook would cooperate with British authorities if they decide to launch investigations comparable with those underway in the US. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has stated that he does not know of any evidence that Russia attempted to interfere in the referendum.

Extensive evidence of Russian-backed adverts having been deployed on social media during the 2016 presidential election – as well as the possibility that there were attempts to influence the 2017 French presidential election – have led to concerns about how democratic processes may be protected from inappropriate foreign influences. In response to these concerns, Facebook banned foreign bodies from placing adverts relating to Ireland’s recent abortion referendum and has laid out plans to inform users about who is responsible for the political adverts they are being shown.

Allegations of Kremlin-backed meddling in the 2016 US presidential election – in order to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost the ratings of Republican candidate Donald Trump – have been under investigation in the US for over a year and cover a range of areas, including online operations. A Special Counsel investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller has already indicted 13 Russians, three Russian entities (including the Internet Research Agency) and a handful of high-profile figures involved with the Trump campaign.

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