On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company will make available to congressional investigators the 3,000 ads it has so far linked to a Russian campaign intended to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In a followup blog, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch made clear the company is only providing the ads through gritted teeth.
“Disclosing content is not something we do lightly under any circumstances,” Stretch wrote. “We are deeply committed to safeguarding user content, regardless of the user’s nationality, and ads are user content.”
Facebook’s halting steps forward in aiding the congressional investigation are nothing new for the company, which only recently has come around to the very frightening (and probably illegal) reality that it permitted a foreign country to actively meddle in the democratic process of the U.S.
In July, the social media company poured cold water on the Senate Intelligence Committee when presented with evidence that Russian actors potentially used Facebook to target highly specific groups of voters.
“We have seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election,” Facebook told CNN at the time.
That proved untrue less than two months later, when Facebook revealed it had, in fact, been paid around $100,000 to push Kremlin-linked ads aimed at “amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum.”
And it’s an even further departure from Zuckerberg’s immediate reaction after the election, when he dismissed as “pretty silly” the idea that misinformation spread on Facebook could have affected the election’s outcome.
On Thursday, Zuckerberg left the door open to the possibility that Facebook may yet find more Russian fingerprints on some of its ads. Judging from the questions Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is putting forward, that may be a wise idea: “How are the Russians smart enough to target in areas where the Democrats weren’t knowledgeable enough?” Warner asked earlier this summer.
If Facebook finds itself a central figure in the investigation, it won’t be alone. U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, conducted a broad campaign of cyberattacks throughout the election, compromising high-profile email accounts and Twitter alike.