Fake Russian Accounts Bought Targeted Facebook Ads During 2016 Campaign

By Greg Gordon and Peter Stone
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The ads linked to fake Russian accounts focused “on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum,” including gun rights and immigration.

WASHINGTON

Facebook representatives told House and Senate investigators Wednesday that a Russian company linked to a Kremlin intelligence operation used fake accounts to buy about $150,000 in ad posts targeting voters during the 2016 presidential campaign, people familiar with the matter said.

But a Facebook official told McClatchy that its search was intended to serve only as a starting point and was limited to accounts that could easily be traced to Russian actors, for example, if they were written in Russian or had a Russian internet address.

The discovery, revealed to investigators for the congressional intelligence committees, marked the first confirmation that Facebook was at least an oblique tool of Russia’s election meddling campaign aimed at planting Donald Trump in the White House.

Facebook’s chief security officer said few of the roughly 3,000 ads found in its initial review, purchased over a two-year period beginning in June 2015, referenced the presidential campaign and only about 25 percent were geographically targeted.

The ads focused “on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum,” including gun rights and immigration, Alex Stamos said in a Facebook news post.

The disclosure, first reported by The Washington Post, is sure to fuel calls for a deeper review by Facebook into whether Russia also may have used other front companies or nonprofit groups to conceal the purchase of additional sponsored ads carrying harshly critical or fake news about Hillary Clinton.

“These disclosures may be the first layer in unraveling Russian efforts to utilize Facebook platforms to influence voting behavior,” said Jonathan Albright, a Columbia University researcher who focuses on the digital spread of misinformation.

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