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Facebook Admits To Selling Political Ads To Russian Firm During Election

07 September 2017

Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that it has discovered it sold ads during the US presidential election to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company's findings.

Stamos said the probe is part of an ongoing investigation that follows the role Facebook played in Russia's active measures leading up to and following the 2016 Presidential campaign.

The social media network said that numerous adverts promoted 470 fake accounts and pages, spreading social and political messages.

In total, Facebook found about 3,000 suspicious ads, which generated $100,000 in revenue, that ran between June 2015 and May 2017.

Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer, said the accounts were connected to each other and "likely operated out of Russia".

"We have shared our findings with USA authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary", Facebook said. Mr Zuckerberg dismissed the notion that "fake news" on Facebook swayed the election as "crazy".

While the "vast majority" of those ads didn't reference any specific presidential candidate, or even the election itself, Stamos explained that the Russian ads that Facebook uncovered were created to amplify hot-button social and political issues, such as LGBT rights, race, immigration and gun rights.

In addition to that $100,000, another $50,000 in political ad spending is thought to have loose connections to Russia that suggest Russian origins, including "ads bought from accounts with US IP addresses but with the language set to Russian".

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"There is evidence that some of the accounts are linked to a troll farm in St. Petersburg, referred to as the Internet Research Agency, though we have no way to independently confirm", a Facebook official told WaPo. Over the past few months, Stamos said, the company has also taken action to block fake accounts tied to election meddling in France and Germany.

Another $50,000 went to about 2,200 "potentially politically related" ads and might have been bought by Russians in potential violation of US election law.

Facebook said it was co-operating with a United States investigation into the matter.

But the findings buttress USA intelligence agency conclusions that Russian Federation was actively involved in shaping the election.

Stamos said Facebook's probe "looked for ads that might have originated in Russian Federation - even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort".

Stamos said it is increasing its efforts to detect fake accounts and will not allow pages that share fake news to buy ads.

Not all politically-related advertising by foreigners is illegal in America.

Facebook Admits To Selling Political Ads To Russian Firm During Election