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Facebook will testify before Congress about its influence on the 2016 election.
The news, confirmed to Mashable via a source at Facebook, arrived just as Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Mark Warner held a press conference Wednesday about what their team has done since launching the investigation on Russia’s interference.
Facebook has said it’s committed to preventing future “election interference.” That statement came in the wake of its own confirmations that Russia-linked accounts purchased 3,000 political ads during the 2016 election. But until now, it has held closed door meetings with officials. On Nov. 1, Facebook will participate in an open hearing.
There have been a long string of developments, surfaced by Facebook’s public statements, Senate hearings, and media reports on the ways the company and other social media platforms could have influenced the election. Sen. Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been outspoken about the need for Facebook to take more action and be more transparent. They listened.
“I was concerned they didn’t take it seriously,” said Sen. Warner. “We’re seeing that change.”
Ironically for the conference, the lawmakers tapped one of the best public distribution tools out there: Facebook. Yes, the very same platform where 3,000 Russian-linked ads were seen by during the election.
In the hearing, the senators also emphasized what they will not do. That includes not sharing any documents such as the 3,000 ads. But Facebook could, Sen. Burr and Sen. Warner suggested during their conference.
“Due to both federal law and the fact that investigations are ongoing with the relevant authorities, we’re unable to share the ads,” Facebook said in a statement last month.
Last month, the Senate Intelligence Committee had invited Facebook, Twitter, and Google to testify in an open hearing about how foreign actors may have leveraged their platforms to influence the 2016 election earlier. Twitter and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Burr shared few initial findings, but emphasized the scale of their work. The briefing included a visual that emphasized the scale of the process. The staff read 100,000 pages of documents, which the staffed compared to more than 80 copies of War and Peace.
“We have not come to any final conclusions,” Sen. Burr said. “There are concerns we continue to pursue: collusion.”
“This is taking a long time. But getting it right and getting all the facts is what we owe the American people,” Sen. Warner added later.
The team has interviewed more than 100 people.
“We have interviewed every official of the Obama administration to fully understand what they saw … and what they did or did not do. Again, I’m reminded that we will come out with a finding at some point,” Sen. Burr said.
Facebook hasn’t stayed completely silent. After a now embarrassing mistake of saying the thought of fake news and Facebook influencing the election was a “pretty crazy idea” shortly after the election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, to reflect on the role his platform played in the election.
“For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better,” he wrote on Facebook. “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better.”
His company purchased print ads in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times Wednesday to share more on the “immediate actions” they have taken to address
But it’s clear that lawmakers want more.