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Facebook Says Russian Accounts Bought US Political Ads

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Company finds fraudulent accounts spent $100,000 on ads during 2016 election cycle.

Facebook announced Wednesday that an operation out of Russia spent an estimated $100,000 on political advertising on the platform in the United States during the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook said that the money was spent on roughly 3,000 ads that ran between June of 2015 and May of this year. The ads were purchased by a collective of some 470 accounts and pages that used falsified identification information. Facebook said that these accounts and pages all seem to be connected to each other and likely were led by an operation out of Russia.

Facebook did not know if the operation was set up by the Russian government.

“Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, wrote in the announcement. “We don’t allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook, and as a result, we have since shut down the accounts and Pages we identified that were still active.”

Stamos said that the vast majority of the ads did not mention the presidential election or a specific candidate. In fact, most ads did not mention voting at all.

Instead, the ads focused on contentious political issues ranging from immigration to race to gun rights.

“The ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum,” Stamos said.

About 25 percent of the ads were geographically targeted.

Additionally, Facebook did a broad review of political ads bought during the election cycle by accounts with very faint connections to Russia, including, for example, accounts that were set up using an IP address in the US but with the language set to Russian. Many of these accounts were not in direct violation of Facebook’s terms of service. In this expanded review, Facebook found another $50,000 in political ad spending for about 2,200 ads.

“We have shared our findings with US authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary,” Stamos wrote.

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