Mueller Investigation Into Russian Facebook Ads May Be a Very Big Deal

Facebook Gave Special Counsel Robert Mueller More Details on Russian Ad Buys Than Congress

Facebook has turned over to US special counsel Robert Mueller detailed records about the Russian ad purchases on its platform that go further than what it shared with Congress last week, according a report published September 15 on The Wall Street Journal's website.

Mueller has obtained a search warrant to investigate "inauthentic" Facebook accounts that are believed to have been operated by Russian-sponsored "troll farms" in and around the former Soviet Union. In it, he expressed some thoughts on the significance of Mueller obtaining a warrant here.

Legal experts said that the news could signal a potentially explosive new phase in Mueller's investigation.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told BI's Natasha Bertrand that the warrant "may be the biggest news in the case since the Manafort raid" - referring to the pre-dawn FBI raid on the home of former Trump 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts.

"The key here, though, is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts - and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info", Rangappa said.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, Republican from North Carolina, said this week he wanted a "full accounting" of what happened given Facebook's own admission that Russians appeared to buy US$100,000 (RM419,200) in political ads in the United States a year ago, and has said a public hearing is more likely than not.

Some of the ads were geographically targeted, leading to speculation that the Russian effort may have been lent a helping hand by Americans. The ads were targeted at American Facebook users and covered issues like gun rights and immigration. But lawmakers had been frustrated with how little Facebook shared with them beyond the basics, the Journal reported.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN last week that Facebook had not turned over the ads to Congress. Warner has also called Facebook's review "the tip of the iceberg", and suggested that more work needs to be done in order to ascertain the full scope of Russia's use of social media.

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