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Where the UK’s investigations into Russia’s Brexit meddling stand Two investigations into Russian influence in the referendum are ongoing. We still don’t know what impact, if any, Russian misinformation had on the Brexit vote. Back in November it was revealed that Twitter accounts with links to the Kremlin were posting inflammatory information around the Brexit vote and terror attacks in the UK and Europe. As a result of reports about Russian activity, the UK’s parliamentary investigation into fake news and misinformation, led by MP Damian Collins, stepped-up its efforts to find out what had happened. At the same time, the Electoral Commission opened its inquiries into adverts that may have been purchased by Russian agents.
But, as is often the case with high-level investigations by public bodies, things drag on. It’s likely that there’ll be several months before final reports are produced. For the time being, this is where we are and all we know about Russia’s potential influence of the Brexit vote. In a large part, this is because it is one of the easiest to study: much of the platform is public and it’s easy to scrape its API. Thanks to the US investigations into election interference, it’s well known that Russian misinformation accounts were posting about the EU referendum. But these accounts, which potentially number in the thousands, were set up to look like US citizens.
Questions remains over how many accounts were created to look like British citizens concerned specifically with the Brexit vote. Collins, who has a wider remit to investigate fake news and misinformation than the Electoral Commission, replied to Twitter saying it hadn’t answered questions he had put to it. But Collins has more questions and says Twitter’s replies have been inadequate. The company’s representatives will give evidence in a Parliamentary session held in Washington in February. Comically, as the MPs fly to the US to collect more evidence, Nick Pickles, the head of Twitter’s policy team in the UK, will also fly across the Atlantic to answer questions. Carlos Monje, Twitter’s director of public policy will also be answering questions on February 8.
Simon Milner, the company’s UK policy director, will be making the journey and will be joined by Facebook’s Monika Bickert, head of global policy. What does Brexit mean for British bees? Whether Russian trolls tried to influence the Brexit vote on Facebook is still unknown. As the majority of the website is private and not easily scraped it isn’t as easy for academics and researchers to analyse activity there. Responding to Collins and the Electoral Commission, Facebook has said Russia actors only paid for three adverts around Brexit. It would appear that no work has been done by Facebook to look for Russian activity around the EU referendum,” Collins said at the time. In coming to this conclusion, Facebook focussed its efforts on looking at the activity of accounts it had already identified as being from the Russian Internet Research Agency.