An influential committee of MPs has written to Facebook asking for any evidence it had of Russia using it to meddle in the Brexit referendum.
Members of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee have called on the social media giant to hand over evidence of paid-for activity by accounts linked to Russia at the time of the vote.
In a move similar to that of the US Congress’s demands, the MPs are insisting the firm’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, provides details of all dealings Facebook had with Kremlin-linked groups who pushed political messaging during the referendum, as well as this year’s general election.
Russia has repeatedly denied interfering in the democratic processes of other countries, but earlier this month it emerged it had paid to put adverts containing “divisive social and political messages” on Instagram – owned by Facebook – during the US presidential election campaign. Facebook is handing more than 3,000 posts to investigators in the US.
The letter, written by the committee’s chair Damian Collins, says: “I am writing to you to request information regarding the use of Facebook advertising and pages by Russian-linked accounts in the lead up to, and during, the 2016 Referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union and the 2017 British General Election.
“As you may be aware, the House of Commons Select Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is currently undertaking an inquiry into the phenomenon of fake news. Part of this inquiry will focus on the role of foreign actors abusing platforms such as yours to interfere in the political discourse of other nations.
“It is for this reason that I am requesting that Facebook provides to my Committee details relating to any adverts and pages paid for, or set up by, Russian-linked accounts.”
Mr Collins then goes on to “politely request” examples of all adverts bought and pages set up by Russian accounts, information regarding their targeting, how much was paid and how many times they were viewed.
He goes on: “I believe that the information that I have requested is in line with that already supplied by Facebook to several United States Senate Committees, including the Senate Intelligence Committee, in relation to the 2016 US Presidential Election.”
A spokeswoman for Facebook said: “We have received a letter from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee and will respond once we have had the opportunity to review the request.”
The committee’s inquiry – which was delayed because of the general election earlier this year – aims to explore the impact of fake news.
Former GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan last week warned ministers they would have to regulate Facebook and other online giants to counter the fake news threat.
Speaking to The Sun, Mr Collins said: “We have seen from the investigation in the USA that Facebook was used by Russian-backed organisations to try and influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
“We need to know if the same techniques have been used in the UK around our election and the Brexit referendum.”