Facebook revealed Wednesday that fake accounts linked to a Russian company bought more than $100,000 worth of political ads during the presidential election, adding a new dimension to the ongoing investigations into allegations of Russian election interference.
According to a report in the Washington Post citing several unnamed sources, the social media giant told congressional investigators that the ads promoted 470 fake accounts that promulgated polarizing opinions on such issues as political candidates, immigration, gun rights and LGBT rights.
The good news is that the ads didn't suggest US-based Facebook users vote one way or another.
Facebook said it is sharing its findings with U.S. authorities. In April we published a white paper that outlined our understanding of organized attempts to misuse our platform. The automated ad placement systems that Facebook uses may have allowed the content that the company would not have otherwise permitted. According to an analysis conducted by Facebook, these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and were likely based on of Russian Federation. Those users were then targeted with election-oriented ads in 2016, he said.
The accounts and the pages in question have been deleted.
Over a billion USA dollars were spent on digital political ads during last year's presidential election.
Stamos noted that Facebook has shared its "findings with USA authorities investigating these issues" and will continue to cooperate with them.
U.S. intelligence officials said in January that the Kremlin had interfered in the election to help elect Trump, including by using paid social media trolls to spread fake news meant to influence the public.
In the months following President Donald Trump's unexpected victory in the 2016 election, Facebook faced intense criticism, with some pundits speculating that Hillary Clinton's loss was partially due to the proliferation of "fake news" articles on the platform that emanated from Russian Federation.
Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said, "I have a lot more questions for Facebook, and I've got a lot of questions for Twitter".
Facebook said it identified a further $50,000 spent on about 2,200 "potentially politically related" ads that it said might have been bought by Russians in potential violation of U.S. election law.
The social network was widely criticized after the election for its role in the proliferation of so-called fake news, which many believe helped Donald Trump win the election. Now Zuckerberg and other leaders will have to turn to Congress for a fix, while lawmakers may also be looking to Facebook for answers on Russian meddling.
Some 170 million people in North America use Facebook every day. We now know what Russian Federation did and why; we need to know what kind of help Russian Federation may have had while they did it.
Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer, has vowed to shut down these kinds of operations. It's also exploring technological fixes that would identify bad actors as early as when the accounts are being created.