In a series of hallway interviews with the press on Tuesday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said that it wasn't a matter of whether the Senate Intelligence Committee he chairs would hold a hearing with Facebook executives, but when. Since reports had been circulating over the past several months that Russian entities had purchased ads on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, the social media giant denied the reports and refused to release those ads to both congressional investigators and to the public. Those political ads were sold to accounts that were found to be linked to a Russian "troll factory" out of St.

Petersburg which is referred to as Internet Research Agency. On the same day of their acknowledgment, however, it was reported that they did end up releasing those ads to special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigators.

Moments of denial, defiance, and contradiction from Facebook

The social media company recently acknowledged last week that it had sold $100,000 worth of political ads to Russian accounts over the last two years. Those ads were found to promote fake anti-Clinton news articles that targeted a vulnerable voter demographic in select states and districts. On the night of their acknowledgment, Rachel Maddow devoted a segment on her show where she applauded journalists for being proven right.

Maddow referred to one report published by Time Magazine back in May titled: "Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America" about how the Kremlin was using the state's social media networks to learn how to target ads and specific influence against anti-Putin protest gatherings. Facebook reportedly also acknowledged those ads in a closed-door meeting with investigators from both the House and Senate intelligence committees last week.

It was reported that the company showed samples of the ads to those investigators but did not turn them over. Facebook officials claimed that making those ads public would violate their privacy rules. One article by the Yahoo News titled: "Under fire, Facebook refuses to disclose political ads bought by Russian trolls", said that Facebook officials flaunted their privacy policy to congressional investigators despite their acknowledgment that most of the accounts used to create those ads were registered under fake names and fake entities that they had already deleted.

The existence of those fake accounts, overall, already violated Facebook's account creation policy.

Where the law gets broken

In reports about Mueller's investigation on Trump Jr's meeting with Russian officials, the view was that because Trump Jr. accepted the meeting with Russian operatives under the chance they would have provided damaging political information they could use against Hillary Clinton, that it was illegal under federal election law. The same argument is being made with Facebook for accepting payment by a foreign entity to generate ads to manipulate the election. Both congressional investigators and those specialists have said that the wording on those ads is critical to learning of the intent.

The intent is also being sought with the probe on Trump Jr's meeting and with another probe into President Trump's original draft to fire Comey, as proof of intent to obstruct justice.

In order to make that connection, those pressuring Facebook have said that if the ads were advocating for one candidate or boosting them in some way over the other, then the individuals who paid for the ads and U.S. persons who assisted them were subject to criminal prosecution by the Justice Department and heavy fines by the Federal Election Commission. The fact that they were purchased by a foreign entity is already a violation.

The Yahoo News article referred to Trevor Potter who was chief counsel for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and author of election law who made an argument against Facebook's defiance to initially release those ads.

He said that the ads were already made public when they were being circulated, as they were serving their purpose as ads and seen by the public. He pointed out that in this case, Facebook has already violated their confidentiality rules they claimed they were protecting. If that is correct, then it puts Facebook under a light of further scrutiny with the public and the law. As of this writing, there is no information as to when Facebook executives will be put before a hearing.

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