By Colin Stretch, General Counsel
Two weeks ago, we announced we had found more than 3,000 ads addressing social and political issues that ran in the US between 2015 and 2017 and that appear to have come from accounts associated with a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency. We subsequently made clear that we are providing information related to those ads, including the ad content itself, to the Special Counsel investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election. Since then, some people have asked why we aren’t sharing the content of the ads more broadly.
After an extensive legal and policy review, today we are announcing that we will also share these ads with congressional investigators. We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election. That is an assessment that can be made only by investigators with access to classified intelligence and information from all relevant companies and industries — and we want to do our part. Congress is best placed to use the information we and others provide to inform the public comprehensively and completely.
This has been a difficult decision. Disclosing content is not something we do lightly under any circumstances. We are deeply committed to safeguarding user content, regardless of the user’s nationality, and ads are user content. Federal law also places strict limitations on the disclosure of account information. As our biannual transparency reports make clear, we carefully scrutinize all government data requests, from here and abroad, and we push back where they do not adhere to those legal limitations. And, of course, we also recognize and support the important work of government investigations and take care not to take steps, like public disclosures, that might undermine them.
Over recent weeks, we have grappled with the extraordinary nature of this particular investigation through this lens. The questions that have arisen go to the integrity of US elections. And the limited information Congress and the intelligence community have shared with us to date suggests that efforts to compromise the 2016 election were varied and sophisticated — and that understanding those efforts requires a united effort, from across the technology, intelligence and political communities. We believe the public deserves a full accounting of what happened in the 2016 election, and we’ve concluded that sharing the ads we’ve discovered, in a manner that is consistent with our obligations to protect user information, can help.
That’s why we have reached out to congressional leadership to agree on a process and schedule to provide the content of these ads, along with related information, to congressional investigators. At the same time, we will continue our own review and investigation, and to do our part to make sure investigators have the information they need. We look forward to their comprehensive assessment, and to a greater public understanding of what took place.
See also: Hard Questions: More on Russian Ads