Facebook denies MP’s claim that ‘Russian activity’ was on the site as early as 2014

Facebook denies MP’s claim that ‘Russian activity’ was on the site in 2014

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

An MP has claimed that Facebook knew about a possible cyber attack on the platform linked to Russia years before they were made public.

Damian Collins, the chairman of the parliamentary inquiry into fake news, said a company engineer had warned that “entities with Russian IP addresses” had accessed “three billion data points a day” from the network in October 2014.

The engineer quoted from internal Facebook emails seized from US software company Six4Three.

Speaking in front of politicians from eight countries at an "international grand committee" on disinformation, the social media giant's Vice-President of Policy Solutions, Richard Allan, could not say whether the company knew about the alleged data access or whether relevant authorities were notified.

He claimed the email cache was "at best partial, at worst potentially misleading".

A Facebook spokeswoman said "the engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity" but offered no further clarification.


'We represent over 400 million people' 

An actor dressed as Mark Zuckerberg arrives at Portcullis House, London. Image: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

Six4Three obtained the internal Facebook emails through legal mechanisms in the US, where the company is involved in court action against the social media network.

Parliament seized the emails on Sunday and Mr Collins promised to release a redacted version of the correspondence "very soon".

Alluding to the Six4Three emails, Labour MP Clive Efford said the committee had "seen evidence" regarding the closure of third-party apps on the network which "could not pay large sums of money for mobile advertising" and closing apps "so that Facebook can move into that area and make money".

Lord Allan said he was "not aware" of such practices.

Representatives showed their anger at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's refusal to answer questions, despite repeated invitations.

"In this room we represent over 400 million people and to not have your CEO sit in that chair there is an offence to all of us in this room and, really, our citizens as well," said Bob Zimmer, chairman of Canada's committee on access to information, privacy and ethics, pointing to an empty seat and nameplate left for founder Mark Zuckerberg.

"While we were playing on our phones and apps, our democratic institutions - our form of civil conversation - seem to have been upended by fratboy billionaires from California," said Mr Zimmer's vice-chairman, Charlie Angus.

Lord Allan appeared in Mr Zuckerberg's place but was criticised for repeatedly failing to answer questions.


'Facebook cannot be trusted'


An exchange with Singapore's Edward Tong drew gasps from the assorted politicians as Lord Allan described Facebook green-lighting hate speech on the platform as "a mistake".

A Facebook post published in Sri Lanka during a time of political unrest in the country proclaimed "Kill all Muslims, don't even let an infant of the dogs escape", said Mr Tong, but a Facebook moderator said it did not violate the network's standards.

Mosques were attacked, Muslims were killed and a state of emergency was declared in the country in March 2018, he added.

"Would you accept that this case illustrates that Facebook cannot be trusted to make the right assessment of what can appear on its platform?"

Lord Allan agreed that the social media platform should be held accountable.