Facebook Says Fake Accounts in Russia Bought $100,000 in Ads During the U.S. Presidential Election

The ads were focused on hot-button issues

Facebook says it's identified hundreds of fake accounts likely associated with a Russian operation.
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Fake Facebook accounts originating in Russia bought around $100,000 in ads over a two-year period during the U.S. presidential election, according to the social network.

Facebook—which has been widely criticized for the role it potentially played in letting fake news thrive during the 2016 presidential campaign—confirmed today that hundreds of accounts bought thousands of Facebook ads between June 2015 and May 2017.

The company said it’s identified about 470 “inauthentic accounts” likely originating from Russia and that seem to be affiliated with each other. The accounts and associated Pages were in violation with company policies and have been shut down, according to chief security officer Alex Stamos.

While there has been a lot of discussion as to whether Russian bots and other sources influenced the outcome of the election that led to Donald Trump becoming president, Stamos in a blog post published today said the “vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting or a particular candidate.” However, he said the ads appeared to be focused on controversial social or political issues related to LGBT matters, gun rights, immigration and race issues. About a quarter of the ads were targeted at specific geographic locations, especially those that ran in 2015.

Stamos said Facebook told U.S. officials about its findings, offering to work with them on any ongoing investigations.

“We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” he wrote. “We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws. We also care deeply about the authenticity of the connections people make on our platform.”

According to Facebook, the behavior of the ads was similar to techniques described in a white paper published by the company in April, which provided additional details about how Facebook was handling its information operations.