Facebook finds Russian ads that sought to sow division during United States election

Facebook says 'likely' Russian operation spent money on ads with divisive political messages

Amid ongoing concern over the role of disinformation in the 2016 election, Facebook said Wednesday it found that more than 5,000 ads, costing more than $150,000, had been placed on its network between June 2015 and May 2017 from "inauthentic accounts" and Pages, likely from Russian Federation.

"Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia", Stamos said. That review was spurred by a broader investigation into Russian interference in the election.

The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn't specifically reference the USA presidential election, voting or a particular candidate.

Topics touched on included race issues, gay rights matters, gun rights and immigration, Facebook said.

The ads were purchased between June 2015 and May 2017.

Representatives from the company explained the findings to congressional investigators today and noted that the accounts associated with the ad buys could be traced to a Russian troll farm, The Washington Post reported.

"We have shared our findings with United States authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary", Facebook's Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos said in a statement.

For its part, Facebook has been acting on the results of its internal audit examining the ways its platform may have been exploited in the 2016 USA election.

"We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform", he said.

The social network said it also uncovered $50,000 more in ads clearly of a political nature that might have links to Russian Federation. "We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws".

It was not immediately clear if the ads were related to alleged efforts by Moscow to influence the USA election, and Facebook said it has shared its findings with investigators.

"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".

Facebook previously published a white paper on influence operations, including what it said were fake "amplifier" accounts for propaganda, and said it was cracking down.

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