Facebook Has Turned Over 3,000 Russia-Linked Ads to Congressional Intelligence Committees

And launched an unusually lengthy PR explanation

The social network is working with the U.S. government's investigation. Getty Images
Headshot of Christopher Heine

You know it’s not good when the company lawyer writes an important blog post.

Indeed, Facebook revealed today that it turned over more than 3,000 ads that were linked to Russia to the Senate and House intelligence committees as part of their investigation centered on the 2016 presidential election. The ads were purchased by a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency, according to the digital giant.

Congress, the national media and the general public have been generally concerned with the Kremlin’s impact on last year’s U.S. election, which saw Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton, as well as elections in other Western democracies.

“We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election,” wrote Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch. “That is an assessment that can be made only by investigators with access to classified intelligence and information from all relevant companies and industries — and we want to do our part. Congress is best placed to use the information we and others provide to inform the public comprehensively and completely.”

The revelation comes two weeks after the company publicly disclosed that 3,000 ads were purchased by such an operation.

And it came with two accompanying blog posts.

In another post today, Facebook vp of policy and communications Elliot Schrage explained parts of how the company got to the decision. Here’s a particularly interesting excerpt from Schrage’s message:

3) Let’s go back to the beginning. Did Facebook know when the ads were purchased that they might be part of a Russian operation? Why not?

No, we didn’t.

The vast majority of our over 5 million advertisers use our self-service tools. This allows individuals or businesses to create a Facebook Page, attach a credit card or some other payment method and run ads promoting their posts.

In some situations, Facebook employees work directly with our larger advertisers. In the case of the Russian ads, none of those we found involved in-person relationships.

At the same time, a significant number of advertisers run ads internationally, and a high number of advertisers run content that addresses social issues — an ad from a non-governmental organization, for example, that addresses women’s rights. So there was nothing necessarily noteworthy at the time about a foreign actor running an ad involving a social issue. Of course, knowing what we’ve learned since the election, some of these ads were indeed both noteworthy and problematic, which is why our CEO today announced a number of important steps we are taking to help prevent this kind of deceptive interference in the future.

Lastly, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a video and the 1,429-word transcript to his page on the social site. He laid out a nine point plan “to make sure that Facebook is a force for good in democracy.”

“The integrity of our elections is fundamental to democracy around the world. That’s why we’ve built teams dedicated to working on election integrity and preventing governments from interfering in the elections of other nations,” he said.

You can check out his full statement here.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.