As special prosecutor Robert Mueller continues to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and alleged interference with the US election, Facebook officials reportedly revealed to investigators that the company sold political ads to a pro-Putin Russian company.
The Washington Post reports:
Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian “troll farm” with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, these people said.
A small portion of the ads, which began in the summer of 2015, directly named Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the people said. Most of the ads focused on pumping politically divisive issues such as gun rights and immigration fears, as well as gay rights and racial discrimination.
Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos addressed the news in a blog post, writing:
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.
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.
Facebook has been sharply criticized for enabling viral “fake news,” further muddying an already divisive and nasty election cycle. But in November, CEO Mark Zuckerberg attempted to quell critics, writing, “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.”
Facebook learned about the origin of the political ads after launching an investigation in the spring, however. The revelation introduces more questions as investigators attempt to determine the extent and nature of Russian influence in the election, including how did Russian businesses target voters—and how closely did they work with people in the US to do so?
Stamos noted that Facebook has shared its “findings with US authorities investigating these issues” and will continue to cooperate with them.