The plot seemingly thickens when it comes to Russian interference in democratic process, with the UK government following in the steps of its US cousins by launching an investigation into Russian online activity.
While the Americans are investigating alleged Russian-linked activity in the run-up to the presidential election, the UK government is concerned with the sphere of Russian influence in the period leading up to Brexit.
The investigation is being led by Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, who wrote to Twitter and Facebook on the 3rd November 2017 regarding information held by them on Russian-linked accounts.
In the original letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Collins requested specific information on accounts in the lead up to, and during, the 2016 Brexit vote and 2017 British General Election.
“As you may be aware, the House of Commons Select Committee for Digital, Media and Sport is currently undertaking an inquiry into the phenomenon of fake news. Part of this inquiry will focus on the role of foreign actors abusing platforms such as yours to interfere in the political discourse of other nations”, the chairman wrote.
Collins went on to request examples of all adverts purchased by Russian-linked accounts, as well as examples of all pages set up by Russian-linked accounts and information regarding the targeting of those specific adverts and pages.
Having also received a similar request from the Electoral Commission, both tech giants responded and vowed to assist into the Committee’s wider inquiry into ‘fake news’.
“We are now considering how best to respond to the Electoral Commission’s request for information and expect to be able to respond to them by the second week of December,” Facebook’s Simon Milner, Policy Director, replied.
Twitter’s reply, however, had a more defensive tone to it. Although offering assistance to the investigation, Nick Pickles, Head of Public Policy, detailed the lengths Twitter goes to in order to protect the Twittersphere from fake news.
“We are currently undertaking investigations into these questions and intend to share our findings in the coming weeks.
“It is important to note that not all automated accounts are bad, whether posting air quality sensor readings or posting details of Wikipedia edits, while not all high activity accounts are bots. Equally, given Twitter’s central control – users choosing to follow or unfollow an account to curate what appears in their timeline – is a robust defence against low – quality automated accounts,” wrote Pickles.
The UK’s Brexit probe will play out alongside the probe into Russian hacking and influence in the US election, where it is alleged that Russia masterminded an online campaign in order to disrupt the presidential election.