MPs Probe Whether Facebook Has Brexit Questions To Answer

It was only a week ago that Carole Cadwalladr, a journalist for The Observer and The Guardian, warned Facebook that they were on the wrong side of history and allowing democracy to be destabilised.

She challenged them to follow her lead and give a TED speech explaining their position. She later tweeted that the social giant had chosen to complain about her speech instead. She was mostly making references to Cambridge Analytica being used to sweep the social media giant's site for personal information to guide how political adverts were put together and targeted.

Today we have the rather fitting example of Lynton Crosby's potential involvement, through his CTF Partners, being discussed by a new committee at the House of Commons set up to tackle online disinformation.

The Guardianrefers to the Australian businessman as a close ally of Boris Johnson and reminds readers his company's London office is ultimately run by another key contact of Boris' who was involved in his 2012 campaign for London Mayor.

Today MPs will hear of allegations that CTF Partners was responsible for coordinating a huge volume of pro-Brexit ads that pretended to be independent, emanating from grassroots dissatisfaction over the pace of Brexit. 

The ads look pretty familiar to either those who received them or have seen through The Guardian covering the story. They call on the recipient to insist their MP delivers Brexit by the, now-passed, original leaving date of March 29th. The campaign is believed to have cost more than a million pounds, and was set up to appear as if it were funded through independent groups, including Britain's Future and Mainstream Network.

The revelation that they were possibly organised and funded by one organisation is set out by The Guardian as the reason why Britain's Future came from nowhere to suddenly be the country's biggest spender on political ads on Facebook. Apparently, some of the pages that took part in the campaign have since been closed down, making it harder to investigate how coordinated the campaign was. 

The social giant has tightened rules on political advertising, but only to the point where someone has to verify an address and assign their organisation's name to a campaign. Where the money is coming from can still be a mystery. 

Which brings us to today's excellent article in The Guardian which does not set it out in quite so many words but draws references to Boris Johnson being a hopeful for the PM's job, once Theresa May is gone. While it doesn't quite say it, the question hangs over the article whether Lynton Crosby is funding these adverts out of personal conviction for a hard Brexit or as part of a campaign which could lead to Boris Johnson becoming the next PM?

Either way -- and actually both alternatives could be true -- MPs could decide that Facebook has inadvertently allowed a coordinated political campaign to pretend to be funded by multiple, independent groups, to be allowing someone to influence British politics while not revealing themselves publicly. 

It isn't enough to verify address -- to ensure fair play Facebook has to detect any linking up of campaigns which are spending so much money that questions arise as to who is doing the funding. Ultimately we need to know is behind the ads and who is funding them, not just who is putting their name to them. 

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