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Facebook says Russian propaganda firm bought $100,000 in ads during 2016 Presidential election

September 07, 2017

Facebook on Wednesday told investigators that a Russian firm purchased $100,000 in ads on the social media site during the 2016 Presidential campaign, and some of those ads specifically named either Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“In reviewing the ads buys, we have found approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000 ads — that was connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies. Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” wrote Alex Stamos, Facebook Chief Security Officer.

“We don’t allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook, and as a result, we have since shut down the accounts and Pages we identified that were still active,” Stamos wrote.

This finding comes during a time when there is a special investigation into the 2016 Presidential election, as special counsel Robert Mueller and investigators are digging into whether or not Russia had influence over and allegedly hacked the heated election, when was won by now-President Donald Trump.

Facebook officials on Wednesday told the Washington Post that the ad sales were traced to a Russian “troll farm” that pushes pro-Kremlin propaganda, and that the ads began in the summer of 2015.

Officials also said a small portion of the ads directly named either candidate, but they did not say which candidate was favored in the ads, according to reports.

Stamos also wrote:

“In this latest review, we also looked for ads that might have originated in Russia — even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort. This was a broad search, including, for instance, ads bought from accounts with U.S. IP addresses but with the language set to Russian — even though they didn’t necessarily violate any policy or law. In this part of our review, we found approximately $50,000 in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads.”

In addition, Facebook released the following details about the ads:

  • The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate.

  • Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.

  • About one-quarter of these ads were geographically targeted, and of those, more ran in 2015 than 2016.

  • The behavior displayed by these accounts to amplify divisive messages was consistent with the techniques mentioned in the white paper we released in April about information operations.

“We have shared our findings with US authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary,” Stamos added.