The Department of Justice's special counselor Robert Mueller and his workplace have interviewed at least one associate of Facebook's group which was associated with President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The interview was a part of Mueller's probe to Russian interference in the 2016 election and what role, if any, the Trump effort played in that disturbance. Facebook and other social programs have emerged as a crucial part of the investigation, not just because the firm embedded staff with that the San Antonio–based digital group working on Trump's effort but also because it sold over 3,000 Facebook and Instagram ads to fake accounts connected to the Russian propaganda team Internet Research Agency. All in, content shared by these accounts reached 126 million Facebook users, for example over 62,000 of whom signed up to attend events organized by these fake accounts.
A spokesperson for the special counselor's office declined WIRED's request for comment.
Mueller's team talking with a Facebook employee doesn’t necessarily implicate Facebook in any wrongdoing. It's natural that a company not just near the effort but also directly impacted by Russian busy members are on Mueller's radar.
Since Facebook began sharing information fall about the magnitude of Russian influence on the platform, speculation has swirled about whether the Trump campaign seeded advice to people trolls that may have helped them target their ads. Facebook has repeatedly said the Internet Research Agency ads used “rudimentary” targeting, and did not target certain lists of voters. In recently released written responses to questions asked through a congressional hearing in November, Facebook said, “We have seen just what appears to be insignificant overlap involving the targeting and content used by the IRA and that used by the Trump campaign.”
It's natural that a company not just near the effort, but also directly impacted by Russian busy members, are on Mueller's radar.
The Mueller investigation has scrutinized more technology firms compared to just Facebook. The special counselor asked Cambridge Analytica, a firm that provided data analytics to the Trump effort and also embedded staff in San Antonio, to provide email records. Among the curiosities of Cambridge Analytica's participation in the campaign is that its CEO, Alexander Nix, allegedly contacted WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange during the election in hopes of cooperating on the organization and release of hacked emails linked to Hillary Clinton. US intelligence agencies state that Russian actors stole those emails, creating a link between Mueller's investigation and Nix's activities. Cambridge declined to comment on the investigation.
The two Twitter and Google deployed staff to San Antonio to work with the Trump effort Too. (Google, Facebook, and Twitter worked with the Clinton effort, but did not embed with that group.) They also both sold ads to the Internet Research Agency. Last week, Twitter reported that it’s alerting 677,775 people that they followed, retweeted, or liked tweets by fake Russian accounts–tweets that collectively received roughly 288 million views. Twitter declined to comment on whether Mueller has interviewed anybody from its own staff.
Google also did not respond to WIRED'. The business has said that it discovered 18 YouTube channels which were probably associated with Internet Research Agency. Accounts linked to the agency purchased $4,700 worth of ads. YouTube also included the Russian media outlet Russia Today, or RT, as a part of its favored lineup of YouTube channels, which can be bundled and presented to advertisers as attractive outlets. Youtube has since eliminated RT as a preferred channel, but nonetheless allows the firm, which has registered as a foreign agent, to purchase Google ads. In its written response to queries in Congress, Google's general counsel Kent Walker wrote, “We’ve seen no signs they are violating these policies.”
In addition to the successful hacks of the Democratic National Committee's servers and the email accounts of Hillary Clinton's campaign chair John Podesta, the Russians launched a simultaneous attack on the US public on social networking. That much is now very clear. Rather than trying to glean information from prominent elected officials, then this offensive hunted to pit voters from each other by posing as activists on both sides of a problem and spreading divisive content on each side. It makes sense, then, that Mueller's research into Russian interference in the election would incorporate the titans of Silicon Valley that enabled Russia's attempts to spread that hatred and insanity.
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