A top Ukrainian official said his country’s government warned Facebook and U.S. officials two years ago about Russia’s “aggressive behavior” — but the social media giant blew them off.
Dmytro Shymkiv, head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, told Facebook and American officials that Russia was engaged in an “information propaganda war” against his country on social media, reported the Financial Times.
He met with Gabriella Cseh, Facebook’s head of public policy for central and eastern Europe, and Thomas Myrup Kristensen, head of the Brussels office, to express concern about the spread of phony stories — which later became known as “fake news.”
“We shared with them some of our concerns that the problem of fake news spreading and the influence of behavior is very worrying,” Shymkiv told the newspaper. “I think Facebook was warned about what might happen with respect to the situation that unfolded in the U.S.”
“Their response was: ‘We are an open platform, we allow everybody the possibility to communicate,'” he recalled. “That’s all I got.”
Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told the Financial Times those conversations in 2014 and 2015 focused on Facebook’s handling of Russian attempts to get pro-Ukraine content taken down, “not about fake news or attempts to spread messages.”
He told the website that those efforts “bore no resemblance” to disinformation campaigns seen during the 2016 U.S. election.
Allan said the Ukrainian government raised concerns about fake news with Facebook only this year, after the U.S. election.
U.S. investigators believe Russia began using fake news and automated social media bots to amplify those stories in 2014.
Officials from Facebook, Google and Twitter are facing questioning this week by lawmakers in both the U.S. Senate and House.
A report by Oxford Internet Institute said Ukraine was one of the first countries to face a “serious disinformation crisis.”
Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko asked Facebook to open an office in his country so Ukrainians could moderate content, because he worried Russians were making those decisions, but the social media company refused.
Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder and CEO, explained in May 2015 that Ukrainian accounts had been taken down for violating site rules on hate speech for allegedly using ethnic slurs against Russians.