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Facebook finds no substantial evidence of Russian meddling in EU referendum

Facebook has found no further evidence of Russian propaganda activity around the EU referendum, after being forced by MPs to carry out a more detailed investigation than it initially performed.

In December, Facebook reported just $0.97 (71p) was spent by Russian-based actors on ads that targeted British users in the period leading up to the referendum. It also said that that money was apparently the result of misfires from the large Russian campaign targeting the US election.

But the House of Commons committee that requested the investigation was unhappy with the result, arguing Facebook had not answered the questions put to it and forcing the company to do a more thorough investigation.

That investigation is complete, says Facebook, and the results remain the same. “The investigation team found no additional coordinated Russian-linked accounts or Pages delivering ads to the UK regarding the EU Referendum during the relevant period, beyond the minimal activity we previously disclosed,” said Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, in a letter to Damian Collins MP, the chair of the DCMS Committee.

“These findings are in contrast with the results of our investigations into organised Russian activities targeting the US,” Milner added. “Before our investigation had uncovered the [Russian] activity on which we testified to the US Congress, the US intelligence community had stated publicly that Russia had attempted to interfere in the US election

“We are not aware of any comparable findings or investigation of this nature by UK authorities. If such investigations were to occur and findings shared in respect of illegal activity in the UK against named individuals or organisations, we would of course be prepared to assess the existence and extent of any relevant activity by them on Facebook.”

In response, Collins welcomed the cooperation, but noted that Facebook has still not provided all the information it promised. “I look forward to them sharing with us, amongst other information: the exact number of accounts that they have suspended; how they are resourcing their fight against bots; their methodology of how they identify fake accounts; and how they determine what country those accounts come from. They have promised this to us in full by 14 March 2018.

“We have also asked Facebook for further points of clarification relating to the letter they have given to us today.”

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