Facebook and Twitter to cooperate with investigation into Russian Brexit meddling

The UK voted to exit the EU, known as “Brexit”, with a margin of around 1.3m votes and securing 53% of the vote.

Facebook and Twitter has promised to deliver a cache of data to British investigators. Dado Ruvic / Reuters
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Facebook and Twitter have said they will cooperate with another set of investigations into suspected Russian meddling in elections.

A number of investigations are underway in America examining the purchase of adverts on Facebook by Russians during the 2016 US presidential race. Now investigations are underway in Britain over suspected international interference in the European Union referendum vote last year.

The UK voted to exit the EU, known as “Brexit”, with a margin of around 1.3m votes and securing 53% of the vote.

More than 150,000 Russian-language Twitter accounts posted tens of thousands of messages written in English. The posts urged support for Brexit in the final few days before the June 23 vote.

The New York Times reports that researchers have found parallels with the Russian social media activity around the United States presidential election later that year.

Facebook has acknowledged that more than 126m users may have seen inflammatory political ads in America. The social media giant has now promised to deliver a cache of data to British investigators and the UK’s Electoral Commission by the second week of December. Twitter is also complying.

Damian Collins, leader of the British House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, had written to Facebook’s founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, to request that the social network share material similar to that given to committees investigating in the United States.

Mr Collins told the BBC that the committee was investigating whether there was “systematic distribution of false news by, particularly Russian-backed, organisations.”

He added that he hoped the release of the information would provide a “better chance to understand the scale of Russian-backed operations during the referendum.”

“We have a right to know what was going on,” Mr Collins said. “Some of the activity took place directly before the referendum and certainly during the campaign — that’s why I wrote to Mark Zuckerberg asking him that Facebook should give us the information about Russian-backed activity on their platform.”

Earlier this month, Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, accused Russia of meddling in Western elections and planting fake stories in the media to “weaponize information” and sow discord.

A potential motive for the Russians to interference in such a way would be to divide and weaken the European Union who have a number of economic sanctions on Russia for its intervention in Crimea in play.