Face­book to help in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­lease Rus­sia-backed ads

Business Standard - - TECHNOLOGY - DUSTIN VOLZ

Face­book Inc Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Sh­eryl Sand­berg said on Thurs­day the com­pany was fully com­mit­ted to help­ing US con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors pub­licly re­lease Rus­si­abacked po­lit­i­cal ads that ran dur­ing the 2016 US elec­tion.

“Things hap­pened on our plat­form in this elec­tion that should not have hap­pened,” Sand­berg said dur­ing a in­ter­view in Wash­ing­ton with the Ax­ios news web­site. “We told Con­gress and the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees that when they are ready to re­lease the ads, we are ready to help them.”

The live in­ter­view was the first by a se­nior Face­book ex­ec­u­tive since the com­pany dis­closed last month it had found some 3,000 po­lit­i­cally di­vi­sive ads be­lieved to have been bought by Rus­sia in the months be­fore and af­ter the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

The in­ter­view with Sand­berg came dur­ing a multi-day visit to Wash­ing­ton that in­cluded meet­ings with US law­mak­ers. On Wed­nes­day, she met pri­vately with the lead­ers of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Sand­berg’s outreach comes as the so­cial me­dia giant and other ma­jor in­ter­net firms, in­clud­ing Al­pha­bet’s Google and Twit­ter, are on the de­fen­sive as they try to limit the fall­out from a tor­rent of new rev­e­la­tions about how Moscow sought to use their plat­forms as ve­hi­cles to sow dis­cord in the United States and to in­flu­ence the elec­tion.

Sand­berg told Ax­ios the com­pany be­gan hear­ing ru­mors of Rus­sian at­tempts to use the plat­form to spread pro­pa­ganda around elec­tion day last Novem­ber, but did not give a pre­cise time­line about when the com­pany be­gan its re­view.

Sand­berg said she sup­ported the pub­lic re­lease of those ads, and the pages they were con­nected to. In­for­ma­tion about how the ads were

“THINGS HAP­PENED ON OUR PLAT­FORM IN THIS ELEC­TION THAT SHOULD NOT HAVE HAP­PENED.. WE TOLD CON­GRESS AND THE IN­TEL­LI­GENCE COM­MIT­TEES THAT WHEN THEY ARE READY TO RE­LEASE THE ADS, WE ARE READY TO HELP THEM”

SH­ERYL SAND­BERG COO, Face­book tar­geted to­ward spe­cific kinds of users would also be re­leased, she said.

Asked if Face­book con­trib­uted to Demo­cratic can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton’s de­feat last year, Sand­berg, an open Clin­ton sup­porter dur­ing the cam­paign, did not an­swer di­rectly, but said it was im­por­tant the web­site was “free from abuse” dur­ing any elec­tion in any coun­try.

But Sand­berg ac­knowl­edged the com­pany had erred in how it han­dled the is­sue of for­eign in­ter­fer­ence last year.

“It’s not just that we apol­o­gise. We’re an­gry, we’re up­set. But what we re­ally owe the Amer­i­can peo­ple is de­ter­mi­na­tion” to do a bet­ter job of pre­vent­ing for­eign med­dling,” she said.

“We don’t want this kind of for­eign in­ter­fer­ence” on Face­book, Sand­berg added. “Any time there is abuse on our plat­form, it trou­bles us. It trou­bles us deeply.” She said the com­pany had been too per­mis­sive at times in terms of how ad­ver­tis­ers are al­lowed to tar­get users, and that Face­book did not want to al­low ads that may be “dis­crim­i­na­tory.” Still, Sand­berg said it was im­por­tant to pro­tect “free ex­pres­sion” on Face­book. Had the Rus­sian ads been bought by le­git­i­mate ac­counts in­stead of fraud­u­lent ones, many would have been al­lowed to run on the site, she said.

She also crit­i­cized Twit­ter’s de­ci­sion this week to re­move a cam­paign video from Re­pub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Marsha Black­burn, who is run­ning for Sen­ate in Ten­nessee. BLOOMBERG

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