Facebook has agreed to hand over information showing the reach of Russian-backed postings during the Brexit referendum by early December, according to the House of Commons media watchdog. Damian Collins, the chair of parliament’s culture, media and sport committee, said he believed the figures would give the UK a better idea of whether Russia tried to influence the vote on leaving the EU. Facebook handed over similar information in the US showing that during the presidential campaign about 123 million people were reached by false news generated by a single troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, in St Petersburg.
Collins, who has demanded the information from both Facebook and Twitter, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was concerned by the “systematic distribution of false news by particularly Russian-backed organisations”.
He said the UK and US knew only about the operation of one agency in St Petersburg but there would “probably be others and we may find other countries doing it too”.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have identified 419 accounts operating from the Internet Research Agency (IRA) attempting to influence UK politics out of 2,752 accounts suspended by Twitter in the US. Those accounts tweeted about Brexit a total of 3,468 times – mostly after the referendum had taken place.