LONDON – Facebook, confounding expectations, said Wednesday that the company had found no evidence of a significant Russian effort to interfere in the British referendum last year about leaving the European Union.
The government-linked Russian organization accused of using social media to seek to influence the United States presidential election in 2016, the internet Research Agency, spent only 97 cents on Facebook advertisements that were delivered to British users during the two months before the referendum, Facebook said in an e-mailed statement.
That bought three ads, and all were centered on immigration and aimed at U.S. users, Facebook said. The ads were viewed 200 times by British users in May 2016, the company said. The referendum took place on June 23, 2016.
The possibility remains that Russia found other ways to use social media around the referendum, known as Brexit.
Facebook’s statement came as an unrelated Oxford study set to be released this week appeared to confirm that Russia made little effort to influence the vote through social media platforms including Twitter and YouTube.
“Overall, I think the Russian activity during Brexit seems to have been minimal,” said an author of the study, Philip Howard, a professor at the Oxford internet Institute, which studies online propaganda. “The real source of misinformation about the Brexit debate was homegrown.”
Facebook made its statement in response to questions from the British Parliament about any Russian efforts to use social media to influence the British vote. Damian Collins, who chairs the parliamentary panel that requested the information, called Facebook’s answer insufficient.
In an e-mailed statement, Collins said he had asked Facebook for details about “any adverts and pages paid for or set up by Russian-linked accounts,” but in response Facebook provided information on only about 470 accounts and pages run by the internet Research Agency and active during the U.S. election.
There was no immediate explanation for the stark contrast with the Russian approach to the U.S. election. Facebook has told Congress that the internet Research Agency had spent more than $100,000 on ads that reached 126 million users in its effort to influence the American vote.
It told Congress that the Russian agency had posted 80,000 pieces of divisive content that were shown to about 29 million people between January 2015 and August 2017.