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Facebook Is Being Asked To Come Clean About Whether Russians Meddled In Brexit

British politicians are hoping to grill Facebook in public hearings on US soil in early 2018.

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The chair of the House of Commons media and culture committee has called on Facebook to come clean about whether foreign powers used the social network to disrupt or interfere with the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

As Facebook prepares to face US congress next month about the unfolding Russian-ad scandal, questions continue to be raised about whether similar foreign interference has been detected and investigated by the company in relation to recent elections across Europe.

Last month, Facebook said it couldn't be sure about whether Kremlin-linked groups spreading misinformation to voters had tried to meddle in the recent German and French elections.

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The head of the UK media and culture committee Damian Collins has told BuzzFeed News he intends to use the government's "fake news inquiry" to question Facebook about whether there was any foreign interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and the 2017 general election.

“As part of our inquiry into fake news, the select committee will be asking Facebook for details regarding advertising purchased by Russian-backed organisations in the lead up to both the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election," Collins said.

"Transparency on any methods used by foreign actors that could have influenced the way in which people voted in both of these instances is essential."

It's understood Collins will take the inquiry to the US in either January or February next year, with the Tory MP hoping for high-ranking Facebook executives to be grilled in public hearings by British MPs.

Collins said if Facebook was willing to uncover the information about the US election, it will be expected to do the same for the period up to the Brexit referendum and the 2017 general election.

"As Facebook has provided this information to the United States congress, in relation to the 2016 presidential election, I see no reason why such information cannot be provided to the select committee," he said.

In a blog post last month, Facebook confirmed it had found about 3,000 ads in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election that were linked to pages controlled by a Russian company.

“The ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights," said the post, from Facebook's chief of security Alex Stamos.

BuzzFeed News asked Facebook several questions about whether the company had looked into the possibility of foreign powers using its platform in similar ways in the UK.

In a one-line statement, a Facebook spokesperson didn't directly answer the question, but rather said the accounts that meddled in the US election "didn't appear" to go after voters in other countries.

“The coordinated accounts and pages we identified didn’t appear to focus on targeting countries outside the US," they said.

Facebook did not say whether any other foreign groups had bought advertising to target British voters ahead of the 2016 Brexit vote.

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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