Facebook says Russian accounts bought United States political ads

Facebook says shadowy Russian group spent $100000 on 'divisive' adverts during US election

While these ads did not appear to be related to any particular political candidate, they may have been meant to amplify divisive views among the USA population as they were focused on hot-button topics such as LGBT issues, gun rights and immigration. It seems that someone at least tried to do so with the 2016 presidential election, because the company revealed that roughly 470 accounts suspected to be of Russian origin spent $100,000 on ads from June 2015 to May 2017. Instead, the ads focused on a wide variety of issues that were red hot during elections like gun rights, immigration, LGBT rights, and racism.

"One question that has emerged is whether there's a connection between the Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook", Alex Stamos, the company's chief security officer, said in a statement.

It is possible that there are more shadowy ad buys that Facebook has yet to identify.

This follows work Facebook has done to curb the influence of such pages.

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The Russian messages were connected to something called the Internet Research Agency, which may sound anodyne, but which was mentioned in the USA intelligence agencies' report on the Russian attack.

Even if no laws were violated, the pages ran afoul of Facebook requirements for authenticity, setting up the suspensions. Some 2,200 ads were potentially politically related, Stamos writes.

For an election that was supposed to exclusively concern citizens of the United States, the word "Russia" comes up more than is ideal when it's discussed. Facebook pointed out these ads' intent to "amplify divisive messages", and this intent was also demonstrated in techniques spelled out by the company's April 2017 white paper.

Clint Watts, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who has studied Russian online influence campaigns, said Wednesday that Facebook's report served as "validation" for findings by him and his researchers, who he said had spotted what they believed to be Russians posing as Americans to press political messages on Facebook as early as 2015. Roughly 25% of these ads were geo-targeted, which means the accounts were pushing these issues to specific groups of people in the U.S. They accounted for another US$50 000.

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Facebook reportedly informed congressional investigators about the ads on Wednesday, according to media, including The Washington Post and the Miami Herald. That includes copies of the ads and the identity of the buyers, the source said.

Facebook's disclosure may be the first time a private entity has pointed to receiving Russian money related to USA elections, said Brendan Fischer, a program director at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington nonprofit that advocates for more transparency.

The social media giant reported that fake Facebook accounts "likely operated out of Russia" purchased thousands of ads during a two-year period that were aimed at spreading highly divisive political messages. Over the past few months, we have taken action against fake accounts in France, Germany, and other countries, and we recently stated that we will no longer allow Pages that repeatedly share false news to advertise on Facebook.

Facebook has turned over the data to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now running the investigation on the hacking. There have been claims that there was indeed a collusion between Moscow and the heated up campaign of President Donald Trump.

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