Russia bought political ads from Facebook during the election, company says

A Russian company that created fake accounts and pages purchased $100,000 worth of advertising during the US election last year, the company said. The Washington Post reported that Facebook traced the fake accounts to a Russian “troll farm” that has a history of promoting Russian propaganda. The ads began running in the summer of 2015, Facebook said, and a small number of them mentioned candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Other ads promoted posts focused on polarizing issues, such as racial tensions or LGBT rights. The tactic, which Russians have also employed on Twitter, is designed to create internal divisions within the United States and erode trust in the democracy. “The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate,” Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said in a blog post.

In total, Facebook found about 3,000 suspicious ads, which generated $100,000 in revenue, that ran between June 2015 and May 2017. The ads were connected to about 470 fake user accounts and pages, which “were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” Stamos said.

On one hand, $100,000 does not represent a large advertising campaign on Facebook. But Facebook’s disclosure provides further evidence that Russia tampered with, and helped to influence, the US election. It also cuts against CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments in the days after the election, when he said the idea that fake news spread on Facebook had influenced the election was “crazy.”

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