Social Issues

Facebook to give copies of Ads bought by Russian accounts to congress

Facebook said Monday it will turn over copies of some 3,000 ads that the social network says were likely bought by people in Russia in the months surrounding the 2016 U.S. election the Congress. 

Facebook accounts with apparent Russian ties purchased about $150,000 in political ads aimed at American voters during key periods of the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a new analysis released Wednesday by the social networking company.

The internal Facebook findings come as the company faces scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees concerned about how both real internet trolls and fake news bots preyed on U.S. voters during last year’s election.

Facebook found some $100,000 in ad spending from June 2015 through May 2017 connected to about 470 accounts that were deemed as inauthentic and in violation of its internal guidelines. These accounts – associated with about 3,000 ads – were connected to each other “and likely operated out of Russia,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote in a Wednesday blog post.

While the “vast majority” of those ads didn’t reference any specific presidential candidate, or even the election itself, Stamos explained that the Russian ads that Facebook uncovered were designed to amplify hot-button social and political issues, such as LGBT rights, race, immigration and gun rights. 

Separately, Facebook also found another $50,000 in political ad spending – for about 2,200 ads – that were bought from accounts “that might have originated in Russia,” Stamos wrote.

A quarter of the Russian-linked ads were also geographically targeted at specific Facebook audiences in the U.S., and most of them ran in 2015 before the first primaries and caucuses when the GOP and Democratic presidential fields were still packed with multiple candidates. While the amount of spending on the ads was nominal at best, the fact that it even occurred is likely to reinforce concerns expressed by some Democrats that Russia may have used Facebook to promote narratives that flattered Trump and bashed Clinton in key Rust Belt swing states that helped the real estate mogul take the White House.

“This is no longer supposition,” said Andrew Bleeker, the president of Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic digital advertising firm that worked for Clinton in 2016.

On Capitol Hill, California Rep. Adam Schiff – the top Democrat in the House’s Russia probe – reacted to the Facebook analysis to note he’s trying to get an Intelligence Committee hearing on “the use of social media by Russia during the campaign.” He said there’s been no agreement yet about which witnesses would be called.

Facebook has been under the microscope for months to explain how its platform was exploited during the last presidential campaign. That race remains under investigation for potential collusion between Trump’s team and a Russian government that U.S. intelligence agencies stated earlier this year had a “clear preference” for the Republican.

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