WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Facebook’s revelation that Russian sources bought $100,000 in political ads on the platform may be just the “tip of the iceberg” when it came to attempts by a foreign power to influence American elections.
According to Reuters, Warner also said that he expected Twitter to brief congressional investigators on its own assessment of whether Russian sources used its platform to sway public opinion. Warner had been attending a national security conference in Washington, and later spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, Facebook said that it had traced the purchase of about $100,000 worth of ads between 2015 and 2017 by firms linked to Russia, but that the spots were largely aimed at influencing divisive social issues, and not backing or opposing a particular candidate.
Still, Warner said that he wants to hear more from Facebook. “I have got a lot more questions to ask,” he told CNN.
He noted that “it pales in comparison to the fact that before the French election, Facebook took down 50,000 accounts.”
He also said that the Facebook revelation highlights the need for more disclosure when it comes to political advertising on social media.
“We have a First Amendment, we ought to protect it, but [Americans] ought to be able to know if content is being sponsored by foreign governments, and also, we ought to be able to look at that content no matter who is sponsoring it, if it is in a political context,” he said.
Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs, and strategy for the campaign and election reform group Issue One, said that, depending on the content of the ads, they could be in violation of federal election laws prohibiting foreign nationals from spending money to influence a U.S. election.
“If there was enough evidence of a violation, the FEC could open an investigation and subpoena the ads, and the Department of Justice also could have a role in a probe if there was evidence of a ‘knowing and willful’ violation,” she said in a statement.