Technology & Science

Facebook announces staffing increase as it turns over thousands of Russia-linked ads to U.S. Congress

Company says it will add more than 1,000 employees to help improve its ad review systems

The Associated Press

October 02, 2017

Facebook said last month that it had found thousands of ads linked to Facebook accounts that likely operated out of Russia and pushed divisive social and political issues during the U.S. presidential election. (Getty)

Facebook announced Monday that the company is planning more measures to increase transparency in advertising as the company provides the U.S. Congress with more than 3,000 ads linked to a Russian ad agency.

Joel Kaplan, the company's vice-president of global policy, said in a blog post that Facebook plans to hire more than 1,000 people to staff global ads review teams. Facebook will also update its policies to require better documentation from advertisers who want to run ads related to the U.S. election, including a requirement that the advertisers will have to confirm the business or organization they represent.

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"Reviewing ads means assessing not just the content of an ad, but the context in which it was bought and the intended audience — so we're changing our ads review system to pay more attention to these signals," Kaplan said.

The moves come as the company is under pressure from multiple congressional committees that are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Congress has recently focused on the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media, putting pressure on Facebook and other social media companies to turn over more information and release any Russia-linked ads.

On Monday, Facebook turned over the ads they have discovered to the House and Senate intelligence committees and the Senate judiciary committee, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House committee confirmed. The company already has given similar material to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russian meddling.

Schiff also said a sample of the ads would be made public later this month. 

Kaplan said in the post that all the ads violated the company's policies because they come from inauthentic accounts. He said the ads "run counter to Facebook's mission of building community and everything we stand for."

Ad policies changing

Facebook announced last month that it had discovered the ads, which were linked to Facebook accounts that likely operated out of Russia and pushed divisive social and political issues during the U.S. presidential election. The company said it found 450 accounts and about $100,000 was spent on the ads.

Kaplan said the company's policies already prohibit "shocking" content, direct threats and the promotion of the sale or use of weapons, but that "going forward, we are expanding these policies to prevent ads that use even more subtle expressions of violence."

Facebook also plans to strengthen enforcement against improper ads by boosting manual and automated review systems. In addition, the company will increase the requirements for documentation and share more information on bad actors with industry and government, according to Kaplan's post.

Twitter has said it found postings linked to those Facebook accounts, and the House and Senate intelligence panels have asked both companies, along with Google, to testify publicly in the coming weeks.

None of the companies have said whether they will accept the invitations.

Social media's role in election

The three committees are investigating Russian meddling in the election and whether there are any links to President Donald Trump's campaign. They have recently focused on the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media, putting pressure on the companies to turn over more information and release any Russia-linked ads.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Sept. 21 that the company would provide the ads to Congress and make changes to ensure the political ads on its platform are more transparent. The company is also working with special counsel Bob Mueller's investigation into the Russian meddling.

"As a general rule, we are limited in what we can discuss publicly about law enforcement investigations, so we may not always be able to share our findings publicly," Zuckerberg said.

"But we support Congress in deciding how to best use this information to inform the public, and we expect the government to publish its findings when their investigation is complete."

Twitter said last week that it had suspended 22 accounts corresponding to the 450 Facebook accounts that were likely operated out of Russia.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, had criticized Twitter for not sharing more information with Congress, saying the company's findings were merely "derivative" of Facebook's work.

The company's presentations to staff last week "showed an enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions," he said.

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