Democratic lawmakers are urging Facebook to publicly release the details of the political ads that were purchased on the social media platform by individuals with alleged Russian connections during the 2016 Presidential race.
These politicians are arguing that a further erosion of privacy, coupled with more active government involvement in social media is absolutely necessary to combat “interference.” Rep. Adam Schiff, House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat argued, “the American people deserve to see the ways that the Russian intelligence services manipulated and took advantage of online platforms to stoke and amplify social and political tensions, which remains a tactic we see the Russian government rely on today.”
However, Facebook is very hesitant about making this sensitive information public for fear of the precedent this would set, and the mistrust it would foster in the company’s advertising community. Though the social media giant has released over 3,000 ads to the congressional investigators this week, it did so after resisting continuous pressure from numerous lawmakers.
“Federal law places strict limitations on the disclosure of account information,” Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch wrote in a post published on Sept. 21, on the company’s own website.
“Given the sensitive national security and privacy issues involved in this extraordinary investigation, we think Congress is best placed to use the information we and others provide to inform the public comprehensively and completely.”
The company also revealed in September that the Russian linked “Internet Research Agency” bought political ads worth a sum of $100,000 on its platform during the time frame of the 2016 elections.
A source with proper knowledge of Facebook’s thinking says that the company is still hesitating as it believes that it is still unclear to what degree has the Russian influence interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections using their platform.
But most of the lawmakers, have a different approach to this and want the ads to be public, “I don’t know why the ads [shouldn’t be released]. I assume that they were already published, so they’re not secret to my knowledge,” said Senator John Cornyn to the reporters on Thursday.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on Senate’s Intelligence Panel also said “I think [the ads] need to be public.”
Warner though at the same time said that it should be Facebook to release the ads to the public, and not the members of Congress to do so.
“I also agree with [Chairman Richard Burr]. We don’t want to set a precedent by giving out materials. I think it’s up to Facebook,” he said.
Clint Watts, a former FBI agent who happened to testify before the Senate on the Russian operations, thinks that while the researchers could provide more insights by analyzing the ads, showing them to the public would only cause more problems to rise.
“It creates a wild sea of conspiracies,” Watts said. “I do worry about the public. I don’t know if they really understand what they’re looking at. Everyone thinks they can somehow analyze Facebook. Often people aren’t equipped to do it.”