Facebook said Wednesday an internal review showed that hundreds of Russia-linked fake accounts were used to buy ads aimed at inflaming political tensions ahead of and following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The revelation, first reported by the Washington Post, comes amid ongoing investigations into Russia's interference in the USA election, including the use of social media to spread fake news and propaganda.
Most of the 3,000 ads did not refer to particular candidates but instead focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to a Facebook post by Alex Stamos, the company's chief security officer.
The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday that Facebook had informed congressional investigators that the ad sales were linked to a Russian "troll" farm known for spreading propaganda. It also was looking for ads bought from accounts with USA internet protocol addresses but with the language setting dialed in to Russian. Approximately 3,300 ads had ties to Russian Federation.
Given the USA prohibition on foreign money being spent in elections, Facebook has a legal duty to act if it is aware of similar activity in the future, Fischer said.
Facebook said it was trying.
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The advertisements directed users towards around 470 accounts that spread false information or were otherwise in breach of Facebook's terms and conditions, the site said.
"We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform", Stamos said.
Facebook has been under the microscope for months to explain how its platform was exploited during the last presidential campaign.
Given the deep knowledge of state-level American politics necessary to successfully geo-target ads like these, the whole thing raises further questions about the possibility that entities linked to the Russian government might have coordinated with individuals in the US, though it doesn't begin to answer those questions. That race remains under investigation for potential collusion between Trump's team and a Russian government that USA intelligence agencies stated earlier this year had a "clear preference" for the Republican.
"It is unlawful for foreign nationals to be spending money in connection with any federal, state or local election, directly or indirectly", Weintraub said in a phone interview.
Not all politically-related advertising by foreigners is illegal in America.