Russian company bought Facebook ads to influence 2016 election

UPDATE 2 — 9/20, 6:34 p.m. EDT: Approximately 20 Democratic congresspeople signed a letter addressed to the FEC asking the election panel enact rules requiring social media companies disclose the source of political ads. 

“Social media platforms offer the ability to target millions of users based upon a wealth of highly detailed information,” the letter read, in-part. “As we have seen, the low cost of reaching these users equips hostile foreign actors with a powerful new tool for disruption of our democratic process.”

Last week, the FEC announced it will seek public comments on regulatory changes and may hold a public hearing on the subject with testimony from tech company executives.


UPDATE — 9/14, 11:34 a.m. EDT: A Washington-based non-partisan watchdog has sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting U.S. campaign ads bought by the Russian government in 2016 be released to the public.

According to the letter obtained by multiple media outlets, Campaign Legal Center president and former FEC chairman, Trevor Potter, alleges the social media giant “was secretly paid to host illegal political ads as part of an illegal foreign influence effort.”

An independent study cited by Potter estimates up to 70 million people viewed the ads, which constitutes a violation of federal election law barring foreign entities from spending money to influence elections.


On Wednesday, Facebook Inc. publicly confirmed Russian interference on its platform by revealing a firm linked to the Kremlin bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of political ads using fake accounts and pages that “likely operated out of Russia.”n e

“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,” wrote Alex Stamos, Facebook chief security officer, in a blog post.

The ads, running between June 2015 and May 2017 by the “Internet Research Agency”, included traditional advertisements and sponsored posts.

“Only about one-quarter of these ads were geographically targeted, and of those, more ran in 2015 than 2016,” Stamos continued.

Most of the ads and accounts “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum.” Only a small number of the ads mentioned the U.S. presidential election, voting, or specifically Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

In his statement, Stamos said that Facebook terminated the accounts and pages that were still active.

However, in the latest review, Facebook found that an additional $50,000 was spent in “potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads.”

“The Russians were playing this much bigger game, which included elements like released hacked materials, political propaganda and propagating fake news, which they’d pursued in other countries,” said Ben Rhodes, former President Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

Meanwhile, Google said Thursday it did not find any evidence of a Russian propaganda campaign like the one carried out on Facebook’s advertising platforms.

“We’re always monitoring for abuse or violations of our policies and we’ve seen no evidence this type of ad campaign was run on our platforms,” Google, an Alphabet Inc. subsidiary, told Reuters.

Twitter Inc. is expected to be the next digital giant to brief the Senate intelligence committee about Russian activity on its platform during the campaign.


[Washington Post] [Reuters] [CNBC] [Image courtesy The Daily Beast]


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