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‘No evidence’ Russia influenced Brexit result via Facebook, Clegg says

There is “absolutely no evidence” that Russia influenced the Brexit result by using Facebook, Sir Nick Clegg has said.

The tech giant’s vice president said Facebook has run two full analyses of the data it held in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, and found no “significant attempt” by outside forces to influence the vote’s outcome.

Sir Nick argued on BBC Radio 4 that “the roots to British euroscepticism go very deep”.

Krasnoyarsk, Russia - June 13, 2011: Facebook main webpage on Google Chrome browser on LCD screen
Image: Facebook was not used to influence the Brexit result, Sir Nick said

Brexit opponents have repeatedly questioned whether the Kremlin played a role in the vote by promoting stories online on issues including immigration in a bid to sway opinion.

The UK says it has found no evidence that Russia interfered in the referendum – and Moscow has repeatedly denied even attempting to do so.

Sir Nick told the Today programme: “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 also dismissed claims that Cambridge Analytica swayed the public’s decision to vote Leave.

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The data firm gained unauthorised access to the data of up to 87 million users via a personality quiz app.

Mark Zuckerberg accepted blame ahead of meeting a congressional panel
Image: Mark Zuckerberg accepted blame ahead of meeting a congressional panel

The former deputy prime minister claimed attitudes had been influenced far more by “traditional media” over the past four decades than by new media.

However, Sir Nick has called for more regulation of Facebook and other tech giants – indicating that the implementation of new rules is not something they “can or should” do on their own.

“It’s not for private companies, however big or small, to come up with those rules. It is for democratic politicians in the democratic world to do so,” he said.

A report commissioned by Macron concluded that authorities should have more access to Facebook's algorithms to counter hate speech
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg meet Emmanuel Macron

Sir Nick, who joined Facebook in October 2018, said there was a “pressing need” for new rules on privacy, election rules, data use and deciding what constitutes hate speech.

It follows a report on disinformation and fake news published in February by the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee.

The 18-month inquiry looked into the impact of social media on society and Facebook’s handling of users’ data, and if the official Brexit campaign broke electoral law.

Cambridge Analytica is being investigated by the ICO
Image: Cambridge Analytica was investigated by the ICO

ICO search offices of Cambridge Analytica in London
Image: ICO pictured entering the offices of Cambridge Analytica in London

Sir Nick also said Facebook was improving on the removal of harmful content, saying the first video of the Christchurch mosque shooting was taken down in a “matter of minutes”.

He is due to give a speech later on Monday about possible regulation of social media and the internet.

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