While the British government has consistently accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 national referendum on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU by using fake accounts on social media, Facebook, which has conducted multiple investigations into the matter, has repeatedly stressed that it found no substantial evidence to back up the claims.
There is “absolutely no evidence” that Russia swayed the 2016 Brexit vote using Facebook, Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president for Global Affairs and Communications, told the BBC on Monday.
Clegg, who served as the UK’s deputy prime minister from 2010 to 2015, explained that the company had conducted analyses of its data and found no “significant attempt” to influence the outcome of the national referendum.
He, likewise, dismissed the claim that Cambridge Analytica, a leading data mining firm, influenced Britons’ decision to vote Leave.
“Much though I understand why people want to sort of reduce that eruption in British politics to some kind of plot or conspiracy – or some use of new social media through opaque means – I’m afraid the roots to British Euroscepticism go very, very deep”, he elaborated.
In fact, he contended that opinions had been influenced more by “traditional media” over the past 40 years rather than by new social media.
The British government has repeatedly accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 referendum on EU membership and spreading “fake stories” in the media to “sow discord in the West”, but has failed to provide any evidence to corroborate the claim. Moscow has consistently dismissed the allegations as groundless.
Facebook undertook several probes over the claims and has on multiple occasions stated that the investigation produced no substantial results: in December 2017, the company said that it had found only $0.97 of ad spending originating from the “notorious Russian troll factory”.
Two months later, after Facebook was urged to continue the probe, the tech titan told a British parliamentary committee that a further investigation to try and “identify clusters of coordinated Russian activity around the Brexit referendum that were not identified previously” had as well been unproductive.
Twitter has likewise announced that it found no evidence proving Russia’s alleged meddling.
The investigations were fuelled by a report from UK-based communications agency 89up, published in February 2018 that accused the Russian media of having a strong anti-EU sentiment prior to the Brexit referendum.
The report claimed that the social reach of these outlets was “134 million potential impressions, in comparison with a total social reach of just 33 million and 11 million potential impressions for all content shared from the Vote Leave website and Leave.EU website respectively”. The company also alleged that the Russian media’s purported interference in the EU referendum was worth up to 4 million pounds ($5 million).
The United Kingdom held the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016, where almost 52 percent of Britons backed the decision to withdraw from the European Union.