Facebook ran $100k of deliberately divisive Russian ads ahead of 2016 US election

Fake accounts bought nasty spots about guns and race

Facebook has 'fessed up to taking “approximately $100,000 in ad spending” from 470 fake accounts connected to Russia and which published spots “amplifying divisive social and political messages”.

The your-life-rendered-as-ads company says it found the ad spend as it continued to probe whether it had been used as part of alleged Russian interference in the United States electoral process.

“One question that has emerged is whether there’s a connection between the Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook,” writes chief security officer Alex Stamos. “These are serious claims and we’ve been reviewing a range of activity on our platform to help understand what happened.”

That review process 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.”

Stamos says Facebook's analysis “suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia” and the ads they bought covered “on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

Facebook found another $50,000 of spending made by accounts that broadcast "very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort" by doing things like using US IP addresses but using the Russian language. Such accounts paid around 2,200 ads Facebook has deemed "politically related".

The good news is that the ads didn't suggest US-based Facebook users vote one way or another. The bad is that they seem to have aimed to create a febrile atmosphere in the US and that effort appears to have succeeded: the 2016 presidential election featured plenty of heated debate on immigration, race issues and guns.”

Stamos says as a result of this investigation Facebook is now “exploring several new improvements to our systems for keeping inauthentic accounts and activity off our platform.”

“For example, we are looking at how we can apply the techniques we developed for detecting fake accounts to better detect inauthentic Pages and the ads they may run. We are also experimenting with changes to help us more efficiently detect and stop inauthentic accounts at the time they are being created.”

“We will continue to invest in our people and technology to help provide a safe place for civic discourse and meaningful connections on Facebook,” Stamos concludes. So get back to watching cat vids and stop-motion cookie recipes, please, dear readers. ®

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