Facebook’s “timeline” for dealing with alleged election meddling is getting clearer.
The company could have disclosed Russian links to fake pages on its website months ago but was stopped by concerns from lawyers, according to a report.
Pressure from members of the 2 billion-strong network’s policy and attorneys led to no mention of Russia in the company’s April report, where it said that influence campaigns were being run by “malicious actors,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Though founder Mark Zuckerberg originally denied that “fake news” on his website influenced the election, he has since opened up about how his creation played a role in 2016.
Facebook said earlier this week that around 10 million people in the U.S. had seen more than 3,000 ads from affiliates of the pro-Kremlin troll farm Internet Research Agency
Columbia University’s Jonathan Albright said in research published Thursday that those pages reportedly among the “inauthentic” Russian-linked batch also had their posts liked, shared or commented on close to 20 million times.
It was not immediately clear how much Facebook new of the source of close to 500 suspect pages and accounts when it released its April report, though the Journal report said there were debates about mentioning Russia and about Moscow connections being “speculative.”
Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin have denied any election meddling, though a joint U.S. intelligence report this January said a Kremlin-backed campaign aimed to tilt the election towards President Trump.
A Facebook official told the Journal that information on the ads was discovered after April, though the report that month said that “malicious actors” around the election “engaged in false amplification using inauthentic Facebook accounts to push narratives and themes that reinforced or expanded on some of the topics exposed from stolen data.”
In a video address on his platform last month, 33-year-old Zuckerberg said that the ads from inauthentic pages had been shared with Congress and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, both holding investigations into alleged meddling.
Those pages that have become public in subsequent reports have ranged across the spectrum in political leaning, with less focus on supporting one candidate than widening social divisions.