Facebook said it won’t disclose the 3,000 ads Russia-linked accounts bought on the platform during the 2016 election. But U.S. senators have them, and they will.
During a hearing of a Congressional hearing of the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee with the general counsels of Facebook, Twitter, and Google, Sen. Christopher Coons shared two Facebook ads paid for by Russians. One focused on the issue of veteran support and was targeted against Hillary Clinton.
The ad apparently was purchased by a Facebook Page called Heart of Texas, which has since been connected to Russian propagandists. The ad was paid for in Rubles, Coons said.
It was previously reported that the Heart of Texas page was linked to Russia. The page had over 225,000 followers as of last summer, according to Business Insider. Facebook took down the page in early September.
For lawmakers, the ads are pieces of evidence to support the call for the government regulation of tech companies. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was a part of the hearing, has co-sponsored a bill called the Honest Ads Act that would require the companies to keep public databases of political ads.
“This ad is nothing short of the Russian government directly interfering in our elections, lying to American citizens, duping folks who believe they are joining and supporting a group that is about veterans and based in Texas, when in fact it [was] paid for in rubles by Russians. Should Facebook be allowed to be a platform that foreign adversaries can use to run politics ads, sir?” Sen. Coons asked Facebook’s General Counsel Colin Stretch during the hearing.
“Senator, that advertisement has no place on Facebook and we are committed to preventing that sort of behavior from occurring again on our platform,” Stretch said.
Coons also revealed a Facebook event started by a Russia-linked account for a “Miners for Trump” event in Pennsylvania.
The ads did not feature any disclosures that it was a political ad. While it did have a “Sponsored” tag, users do not really know who is behind the Facebook Page.
Sen. John Kennedy had earlier questioned Facebook’s ability to understand who is paying for ads given its sheer scale.
“You got 5 million advertisers, and you’re going to tell me you’re able to trace the origin of all those?” he asked.
Senators weren’t just showing off Facebook ads. Another senator shared a Twitter ad that was a fabricated photo of actor Aziz Ansari holding a sign that encouraged people to vote for Clinton via text message. Of course, that is not possible and was therefore an attempt to suppress voters for Clinton.
This hearing was the first of three for Facebook, Twitter, and Google this week. On Wednesday, the general counsel will meet with the Select Intelligence Committees of the Senate and the House.