Congressional investigators were told on Wednesday that Facebook has recently discovered that it sold ads to a Russian company, known as the Internet Research Agency, which sought to target voters during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The social network reported that, upon tracing the sales, a Russian “troll farm” known for spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda spent $100,000 on Facebook ads.
The ads date back to the summer of 2015 when a small portion directly referenced Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Investigators do not know at this time which of the two candidates the ads favored.
The majority of the ads, according to chief security advisor at Facebook, Alex Stamos, “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum…” That includes topics like LGBT rights, immigration, gun rights, and race.
In January of this year, the U.S. intelligence community determined that Russia had used paid trolls on social media to spread fake news and interfere with the U.S. election in favor of Trump.
This revelation is expected to renew interest in questions of whether or not the Russians were guided by people here in the United States.
According to Facebook, about 25% of the ads were targeted to specific geographic areas, though at this time, investigators do not know which areas or demographics were targeted. There were more ads running in 2015 than in 2016.
During an in-house investigation this spring, Facebook noticed that 3,300 ads were connected with the Russian troll farm. This led to the discovery of 470 accounts and pages deemed suspicious, if not fraudulent. These accounts and pages were not only linked to the Russian company but also promoted the ads in question.
Facebook’s actions to prevent this happening in the future include deleting those suspicious pages and accounts that were still active and implementing technological improvements to help detect and block fake news and accounts.
Source: The Washington Post
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