Facebook Admits That It Sold Political Ads To Russian Fake News Accounts Ahead Of The 2016 U.S. Election

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Multiple investigations — of the Congressional and Justice Department varieties — continue into Russia’s interference with the U.S. election, and Facebook has now confirmed one piece of the puzzle after months of apparent resistance by the social media platform.

Back in May, TIME reported that Facebook was allegedly circulating Russian propaganda via ad space that was bought by Moscow agents to target certain audiences with propaganda. The stated source was a senior U.S. intelligence official who remained anonymous, and at the time, Facebook denied that any evidence of these ad buys existed, all while Rep. Mark Warner (D-VA) of the Senate Intelligence Committee began to dig into reported evidence, and researchers discovered similar activity on Twitter, where Russian bots were churning out political tweets like crazy.

Despite those repeated denials, Facebook has finally confirmed that Russia-linked accounts purchased ads to spread propaganda. The New York Times reports that Facebook disclosed to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that ads were purchased by fake accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a notorious source of “troll” accounts. These ads were, of course, designed to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the election while attacking Hillary Clinton. Here’s more:

Providing new evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Facebook disclosed on Wednesday that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin.

Most of the 3,000 ads did not refer to particular candidates but instead focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to a post on Facebook by Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer. The ads, which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, were linked to some 470 fake accounts and pages the company said it had shut down.

The Washington Post notes that although $100,000 is a relatively small amount of change compared to the cost of a presidential campaign, the truly significant aspect of this story is that Russians likely “received guidance from people in the United States” in order to properly purchase and target these ads. And if that guidance did occur, then some suspicions of Congressional Democrats will have been confirmed.

Facebook further revealed that these ads were “geographically targeted,” although it’s not certain whether demographic targeting also occurred. And as the House Intelligence Committee’s Adam Schiff (D-CA) told WaPo, this new revelation could be damming:

“This is a very significant set of data points produced by Facebook. Left unanswered in what we received from Facebook — because it is beyond the scope of what they are able to determine — is whether there was any coordination between these social media trolls and the campaign. We have to get to the bottom of that.”

While little doubt remains regarding Russian interference, this new Facebook admission will lead to further investigation into exactly who those Americans are who could have helped facilitate these ad-buying accounts and whether their identities could even point toward Trump campaign collusion. Of course, that last point hasn’t been proven yet, but hey, Don Jr. did his best to collude, so anything is possible here.

(Via New York Times, Washington Post & TIME)

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