House Intelligence Committee leaders announced Wednesday that they will release Facebook ads linked to Russian efforts to influence U.S. politics in 2016.
The House’s top Russia investigators, Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) and ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff of California, revealed the committee’s intent to publicize the ads after a closed-door meeting with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
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The lawmakers said they’d release the ads sometime after tech companies testify on Capitol Hill about foreign meddling in the presidential election.
“We will do that as quick as we can,” Conaway told reporters. The decision to make the ads public will draw intense scrutiny as more details emerge about Moscow’s role in attempting to sway the election for Donald Trump.
Reports have indicated that the ads featured divisive images and rhetoric meant to inflame passions on both the left and the right, but so far the House and Senate intelligence committees haven’t released the ads. Leaders on the Senate committee have said it’s their policy to never release source material. Facebook, too, had balked at releasing the ads until now as well.
Schiff said lawmakers had asked Facebook for help to “scrub any personally identifiable information” from the ads.
Sandberg also met with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) before heading to a separate huddle with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats. Sandberg is not meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) this week, according to his office
Pelosi didn’t divulge many details about the meeting ahead of time but hinted that Russian meddling would be discussed, saying “some of the things you could imagine” are expected to come up.
“I don’t have an agenda. We’ll see what her agenda is too,” the California Democrat told reporters. Schiff, along with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) also attended the meeting, according to a source. Google is based in Eshoo’s Silicon Valley district. Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) was part of McCarthy’s meeting with Sandberg.
Sandberg will be back on the Hill on Thursday morning to huddle with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Facebook is under pressure from lawmakers and investigators from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as they dig into the role the social media site played in selling ads to Russians seeking to influence the 2016 election. Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg are among the Facebook officials who have been making calls to share the company’s perspective as the investigations continue, a source familiar with the situation told POLITICO on Tuesday.
Schiff said Facebook has asked for more assistance from the intelligence community to help police foreign actors who attempt to harness the platform to meddle in elections.
“I think we should seek to facilitate when the intelligence community identifies the Russians are using this platform — in the same way that when the intelligence community finds that ISIS or Al Qaeda is using the platform for recruitment — there ought to be a dialogue through FBI or DHS,” he said.
The Senate Intelligence Committee last week joined intelligence officials in confirming that Russia used Facebook’s advertising platform, as well as the ability to make fake accounts and use other social media tools to foment political division in the United States.
Facebook has revealed at least $100,000 in ad spending by Russia-linked accounts intended to influence U.S. politics, but so far the ads haven’t been publicly revealed, although the company has shared the ads with the intelligence panels.
Senate Intelligence leaders have said it’s up to Facebook to release the ad content if it wants. NBC was first to report Wednesday that the House Intelligence Committee plans to release the ads.
Some lawmakers are also discussing whether to pass a law that would force social media advertisers to disclose the source of their spending, just as television advertisers are already required to do.
The CBC, long a critic of the lack of workforce diversity at Facebook and other tech companies, is now urging Facebook and Twitter to curb Russia-linked ads.
A congressional source said the CBC plans to press Sandberg on Facebook’s ongoing diversity issue, saying it is one reason the social media site failed to quickly recognize that the Russian-bought ads promoting Black Lives Matter were aimed at exploiting racial tensions in the U.S.
CBC Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Facebook and Twitter last week requesting that the two companies share the Russian-bought ads more broadly with members of Congress and brief lawmakers on the scope of the Kremlin’s social media activity.
Facebook and Twitter have said they plan to send representatives to testify before Intelligence Committee investigators. Google is also invited but has not said whether it plans to attend.
Facebook briefed congressional investigators last week on its internal probe into Russian-linked election ads. The company said 10 million people saw ads placed by Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
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