Russia accuses Facebook, Google of publishing political ads during regional polls; social media influence under scrutiny again

  • Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May this year announced that Russia had, in fact, meddled in the US presidential elections in 2016, which saw Donald Trump's entry into the White House

  • Refuting Trump's continued support for Russia, Mueller, in the 448-page report held that 'Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 election by hacking'

  • Russia, however, has repeatedly denied the allegation

Coming around a full circle since it was accused of meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections, Russia, earlier this week, accused tech giants Facebook and Google of publishing political advertising during its regional elections despite being asked to ban such publicity.

“Such actions can be seen as interference in Russia’s sovereign affairs and hindering the conduct of democratic elections in the Russian Federation”, Russian State communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said on its website on 8 September.

 Russia accuses Facebook, Google of publishing political ads during regional polls; social media influence under scrutiny again

File image of Russian president Vladimir Putin. AP

However, Facebook denied the claim and said that advertisers, not it, were responsible for complying with local election laws. Meanwhile, Google was quoted by Reuters as saying that advertisers had to "comply with local legislative demands including the laws on elections and voting rights and mandatory 'election silence' for any geographical areas where such advertising is oriented".

The Vladimir Putin-led country held the regional polls after the exclusion of many opposition candidates triggered big protests in Moscow over the past several weeks. The complaint against the social media companies reportedly came after Russia had pulled up Google for "letting YouTube users share information about the protests.

Russian interference in 2016 US presidential election

Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May this year announced that Russia had, in fact, meddled in the US presidential election in 2016, which saw Donald Trump's entry into the White House.

Refuting Trump's continued support for Russia, Mueller, in the 448-page report held that "Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 election by hacking". Russia, however, has repeatedly denied the allegation.

The report was quoted by TIME magazine as saying, "As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. …

And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election."

However, Mueller stopped short of accusing Trump of "obstructing justice" during the two-year-long investigation, which the US president has repeatedly called a "witch hunt".

The TIME report further said, "Mueller also said that investigators found “insufficient evidence” to find any Americans conspired with the Russians in that effort and that his team pointedly did not say whether or not Trump obstructed justice during the investigation."

Social media and elections

Increasingly, in recent times, governments are being called on to be responsible with the use of social media with respect to elections and to exercise regulation to curb any scope for influence through the populist tool.

The restrictions and regulations on political advertising on Facebook and Google around the elections of the European Union and the General Election in India this year are significant examples of leaders holding the platforms accountable for the influence they wield on opinion in the political sphere.

One of the biggest problems facing authorities grappling with the unchecked influence of social media on voters, is the lack of sufficient and uniform research on the effects. "Without an organized research agenda that informs policy, democracies will remain vulnerable to foreign and domestic attacks," a report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science noted.

However, voters can be vigilant on a personal level when it it comes to "observing political campaigns and soaking up other information connected to elections."

"Social media users should take a close look at the source of their reading material in terms of reliability and authenticity. And electors have a responsibility not to perpetuate any misinformation that might come their way," a report by Halifax Today noted.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Sep 12, 2019 16:09:06 IST