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2017-09-21 17:36:02
Facebook to Turn Over Russian-Linked Ads to Congress

WASHINGTON — Under growing public pressure to reveal more about the spread of covert Russian propaganda on its site, Facebook said on Thursday that it was turning over more than 3,000 Russia-linked ads to Congressional committees investigating the Kremlin’s influence operation during the 2016 presidential election.

“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said during an appearance on Facebook Live, the company’s video service. He added that he did not want anyone “to use our tools to undermine democracy.”

“That’s not what we stand for,” he said.

The announcement that Facebook would share the ads with the Senate and House intelligence committees came after the company spent two weeks facing calls for greater transparency about the 470 Russia-linked accounts that it took down after they had promoted inflammatory messages on divisive issues. Facebook had previously shown Congressional staffers a sample of the ads — some of which attacked Hillary Clinton or praised Donald J. Trump — but had not shared the entire collection.

Facebook’s admission on Sept. 6 that Russian agents covertly bought ads on the site during last year’s presidential campaign has brought intense scrutiny on the social network and Twitter, entangling both companies in the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, and raising the possibility of future regulation of political advertising on their platforms. Congressional Democrats asked the Federal Election Commission this week to advise on ways to prevent foreign influence on American elections, including possible new laws or regulations.

On Thursday, Mr. Zuckerberg vowed that Facebook would be “more transparent” and outlined a list of actions that the company planned to take in the weeks ahead about political advertising. Those included revamping how the company treats such ads on the social network. Facebook also plans to invest more heavily in its security teams, expand its partnerships with global election commissions, and work closely with other tech companies to share threat information as it arises.

In his seven-minute talk from Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Mr. Zuckerberg also noted that it was his first day back from parental leave after the birth of a daughter. But despite that folksy touch, he had the look of an improbably young leader addressing his people at a moment of crisis.

With his talk of “the democratic process,” “foreign actors,” and “election integrity” — in Germany as well as in the United States — Mr. Zuckerberg underscored Facebook’s status as a transnational global behemoth whose power reaches into every corner of contemporary life.

“We are in a new world,” he said. “It is a new challenge for internet communities to deal with nation-states attempting to subvert elections. But if that’s what we must do, we are committed to rising to the occasion.”

Twitter, which has kept a low profile since Facebook’s disclosure of the Russian intrusion, said it will brief the Senate Intelligence Committee next Wednesday behind closed doors.

In a statement, Twitter did not address illicit Russian activity on its platform but said it “deeply respects the integrity of the election process, a cornerstone of all democracies” and vowed to “continue to strengthen our platform against bots and other forms of manipulation.”

Representative John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat and the chairman of a group called the Democracy Reform Task Force that is tracking the Russian interference, said it was urgently necessary to understand Russia’s actions and prevent a repeat in future campaigns.

“We’re telling the F.E.C., let’s get going on this, because the 2018 election is bearing down on us,” he said. “I think it’s fair to expect the companies to have a higher level of vigilance and catch this stuff on the front end, instead of after the fact.”

The New York Times reported this month that Russian intelligence appeared to have been behind an infestation of Twitter with automated accounts, called bots, that spread messages against Hillary Clinton last year. The cyber security company FireEye identified what it called “warlists” of hundreds of fake accounts that fired off identical political messages.

The Times also found Facebook accounts that appeared to have been created by ordinary Americans but were actually concocted by Russian agents. Facebook, which had said as recently as July that it had found no evidence of fraudulent Russian ad purchases, reversed itself this month and said it had removed the 470 profiles and pages, which it said were linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with Kremlin ties.