Facebook representatives told congressional investigators on Wednesday, Sept. 6, that it had sold ads to a Russian group that targeted voters, according to new reports.
The said group created fake accounts and pages, and bought $100,000 worth of ads during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
A Russian Group Bought Facebook Ads
As The Washington Post reports, Facebook said it traced the account to a Russian "troll farm" that in the past had often pushed pro-Kremlin propaganda. Ads were deployed in the summer of 2015, according to Facebook, and a small of those referenced both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It's not clear whether the ads favored or tarnished either of the two candidates at the time.
A small portion of those ads sought to polarize and amplify "divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum," according to a blog post by Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos. It introduced heated topics such as gun rights, immigration, race issues, and LGBT matters.
The vast majority of the accounts did not outright mention voting for either of the candidates, and the U.S. presidential election, according to Stamos.
Facebook found 3,000 suspicious ads in total that ran between June 2015 and May 2017. They were connected to about 470 fake accounts and pages that were affiliated with one another. Such accounts, according to Stamos, likely operated outside Russia.
Facebook's Fake News Criticism
The unexpected victory of now-President Trump gave birth to a hotly contested theory that Facebook's fake news problem ultimately swayed the elections. During the campaign period, fake news became a constant problem on the social media platform, with bogus articles defaming either Trump or Clinton being shared willy-nilly.
At first, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thought such allegations were absurd, although his stance softened overtime, later promising to make Facebook a better platform by getting rid of fake news. This new discovery certainly goes against his initial comments, in which he said the idea that fake news on Facebook helped Trump win was "crazy."
For its part, Facebook has since sought the help of third-party fact-checkers, employed more people to monitor content, and released a feature called Related Articles, which displays supplementary content under a news item that might be bogus.
On one perspective, $100,000 might not be that much for advertisements, but the mere fact that a group specifically published ads that attempted to target voters during the election is a groundbreaking discovery, one that would probably add some fuel to Trump's alleged collusion with Russia.
How this news will affect Facebook's ad-buying policies remains a question.