YouTube says there is ‘no evidence’ Russia interfered with Brexit vote

Representatives from Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter gave evidence to British lawmakers during a hearing on “fake news” on Thursday

YouTube said it found "no evidence" of Russian interference in the Brexit vote. Hayoung Jeon / EPA
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YouTube said it has found no evidence to suggest that Russia interfered in the 2016 referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Representatives from major internet companies Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter gave evidence to British lawmakers during a hearing on “fake news” in Washington DC on Thursday.

The UK’s Digital, Media, Culture and Sport Committee took the unusual step on travelling to the US to hold the hearing, which was designed to pressure technology giants to do more to remove disinformation from its sites.

Juniper Downs, YouTube’s global head of public policy, said the company had found "no evidence of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum".

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May last year accused the Kremlin of interfering in elections and planting false news in the media. This accusation has been rejected by Moscow.

Facebook’s UK policy director Simon Milner said his company was still investigating whether Russia spread disinformation on the social media platform.

“We won’t be able to tell you until that investigation has been completed,” Mr Milner told the panel.

Facebook will provide the results of the investigation to the committee at the end of February, although this might be held in private to hold the information back from “bad actors”.

Lawmakers probed representatives on how committed they were to removing false news from their platforms, particularly on financial resources allotted to the cause.

"We feel an extraordinary sense of responsibility," said Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president of news. "The loyalty of our users is based on their continued trust."

Committee chairman Damian Collins said Google-owned YouTube had put forward an “unambitious programme of investment” in allotting $10million (Dh36.7m) to tackle the spread of disinformation.

He described the investment as putting a “small sticking plaster over a gaping wound” and pressed the companies to use the same technological and financial tools it used to drive up advertising sales to rid itself of misinformation and extremism.

Ms Downs said YouTube recognised there was a problem with misinformation and that the company would be willing to invest more to address it if needed.

Both the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal reported that YouTube’s algorithms were recommending conspiracy theories and other fake news. While researchers from the University of Oxford found that right-wing groups were using Facebook to spread fake news stories.

Lawmakers also met with media companies in New York for additional meetings on the issue.

Mr Collins previously defended his decision to travel to the US to hold the hearing, explaining the tech companies would have sent lower level representatives for the hearing had it been held in Westminster.

“What we particularly wanted was global policy leads on these issues giving evidence, not what always happens when these companies appear in front of the House of Commons committees, which is you basically get their London PR people giving evidence rather than people who are actually responsible for global policy or running bits of the business.”