Facebook to release Russian-financed 2016 US campaign ads

UPDATE — 9/21, 9:14 p.m. EDT: Responding pressure from the U.S. government, Facebook Inc. announced Thursday it will release American political ads purchased by Russian sources which appeared on the social media site in 2016 — a violation of federal election law.

Both White House and congressional investigative teams looking into the Kremlin’s influence during the presidential campaign will receive information related to the ads. 

CEO Mark Zuckerberg also appeared on Facebook Live to announce the company would now require all political advertisers to disclose funding sources.  Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have since sent a letter to congressional colleagues urging support for their bill which would codify Facebook’s commitment in U.S. law for all large virtual networks.

 

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.”

“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] [Politico] [Image courtesy The Daily Beast]