Facebook Sold $100K in Political Ads to Russian Co

After months of questions about what role Facebook played in Russia's interference in the 2016 USA presidential election, the social media company said today it sold about $100,000 worth of ads connected to inauthentic accounts and pages that "likely operated out of Russian Federation". The page is registered to a fake account in Russian Federation named "troll farm". The people were granted anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation.

An internal Facebook investigation has found it is "likely" Russian operatives spent $100,000 on ads with "divisive messages" between June 2015 and May 2017.

In a statement confirming the Post's story, Facebook's Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos said that a quarter of the ads in question were geographically targeted and that more had run in 2015 than in 2016. According to the Post, Facebook has told United States congressional investigators that it sold the ads to a "Russian troll farm" that has a history of "pro-Kremlin" propaganda. Another Facebook official said some of the accounts appear to be connected to a well-known "troll farm" run out of St. Petersburg. The source also said that the company produced copies of data and also advertisements about the buyers. It isn't clear whether the strategy represented an experiment by the Russian-linked buyers that they abandoned or how much more of the "iceberg" might be revealed in records of Facebook or other such platforms.

A spokeswoman for Twitter declined comment Wednesday evening.

Facebook sells its advertising through a self-service ad model, through which buyers can choose demographic, geographic and interest-based targets, the Facebook spokesperson said. The social media giant declared that they had closed down the accounts and pages since then.

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Rep. Adam Schiff said Facebook's conclusion that it sold ads to a Russian "troll farm" bolsters the U.S. claim that Russia organized a social media disinformation campaign in the 2016 USA election.

This is one thing that was leading a lot of debate. Though the ads had US IP addresses, the language was Russian. Facebook found over 3,000 ads and hundreds of of likely fraudulent accounts that operate from Russian Federation, several of which were traced back to a specific troll farm in St. Petersburg.

It's illegal for foreign individuals or governments to make contributions to candidates in American elections and to spend money advocating for one candidate over another, according to Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.

It is possible that there are more shadowy ad buys that Facebook has yet to identify. The company recently started blocking ads from pages that promote fake news and also now limits the reach of News Feed posts that link to scammy, ad-filled fake news sites.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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