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No evidence of Russian interference in Brexit via Facebook, says Clegg

The former deputy prime minister also dismissed claims that Cambridge Analytica swayed people’s decision to vote Leave in 2016.

Sir Nick Clegg (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Sir Nick Clegg (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

There is “absolutely no evidence” that Russia influenced the EU referendum result using Facebook, the tech giant’s vice-president, Sir Nick Clegg, has said.

The former deputy prime minister, who started working for the company last October, also dismissed claims that Cambridge Analytica swayed people’s decision to vote Leave in 2016.

Up to 87 million people are believed to have had their data harvested by the political consultancy via a personality quiz app.

Sir Nick told the BBC that Facebook had carried out analyses of its data and found no “significant attempt” by outside forces to influence the referendum result.

“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 told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats claimed attitudes had been influenced far more by “traditional media” over the past four decades than by new media.

In February, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on disinformation and fake news.

The 18-month inquiry looked into the effects of social media on society, Facebook’s handling of users’ data and allegations that the official Brexit campaigns broke electoral law during the referendum.

MPs have called for greater regulation of tech companies and Sir Nick said implementing new rules was 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.

The chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Damian Collins said Sir Nick was wrong to say there was no evidence that Russia used Facebook to interfere in the referendum.

“He is technically wrong on that point which he should know,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We asked Facebook whether there was any evidence of Russians buying ads during the referendum. There was – which they shared with us – on a very small scale, but nevertheless it was there.”

He added: “There has been no proper audit done during the referendum. There is certainly evidence of suspicious Russian activity during the referendum and elsewhere.”

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