Facebook Meets the Danger of Automation: Russian Political Ads

Friday, 08 Sep, 2017

Facebook indicated that almost 500 fake accounts purchased roughly 3,000 political ads between June 2015 and May 2017, according to Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer.

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

Facebook says an internal investigation has uncovered $100,000 in advertising spending by hundreds of fake accounts and pages, likely operated out of Russian Federation, which sought to sow political division during the USA presidential election.

Between June 2015 and May 2017, 470 accounts bought ads touting fake or misleading news or directing users to pages with such content, a Facebook official said.

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.

The panel is one of three groups investigating Russia's alleged interference in the USA presidential election, including possible collusion between the country and members of Trump's election campaign. The stated source was a senior US intelligence official who remained anonymous, and at the time, Facebook denied that any evidence of these ad buys existed, all while Rep. Mark Warner (D-VA) of the Senate Intelligence Committee began to dig into reported evidence, and researchers discovered similar activity on Twitter, where Russian bots were churning out political tweets like insane. Second, $100,000 of ad spending in a country where 130 million people voted doesn't amount to a hill of beans in any real sense, no matter how targeted.

Facebook says it has shared the findings with USA investigators.

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The company said the advertisements promoted divisive political messaging on subjects like gay marriage, immigration, race and gun rights, instead of specifically targeting candidates. They were connected to about 470 fake accounts and pages on the social network.

Facebook announced Wednesday that they discovered about $100,000 worth of political ads purchased over the last two years by fake accounts that "likely operated out of Russian Federation".

Facebook also found an additional 2,200 political ads tied to Russian Federation in a broader search of company records.

But Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said that he heard a different story from the social media giant during the 2016 election.

Any ad purchases as described by this WP report would violate FEC rules prohibiting foreign nationals and governments from either spending money or making contributions that influence U.S. elections on the federal, state, or local level. The company also looked for other ads that may have originated in Russia, in a broader search that included U.S. computers with the language set to Russian. FB called them "organized actors" that engaged in elaborate "information operations" to deceive USA citizens and distort political sentiment prior to the election.

"I'm certain that the special counsel would be interested in this information, and I would presume that if Robert Mueller's team has not received this information from Facebook, they'll be asking for it soon", Fischer said. There have been claims that there was indeed a collusion between Moscow and the heated up campaign of President Donald Trump.