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Facebook found US election ad spending likely linked to Russia

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-09-2017 Sarah Frier

Facebook Inc. says it found about $100,000 in ad spending connected to fake accounts likely run from Russia that aimed to stir political controversy in the US ahead of the presidential election.

While the majority of the ads, run between June 2015 and May 2017, did not directly reference the US election, they amplified “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum”, Facebook said in a statement. They were connected to about 470 fake accounts and pages on the social network. The company is sharing its findings with US investigators.

“Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” Facebook said. The ads align with a broader strategy to misinform the public through a new category of attack Facebook calls “information operations,” outlined in a white paper earlier this year.

Facebook has deleted the accounts and pages since it discovered them. The company also looked for other ads that may have originated in Russia, in a broader search that included US computers with the language set to Russian. In that review, the company found $50,000 spent on 2,200 ads that were potentially political.

Russia’s meddling in the US election became a central focus of US intelligence agencies in the second half of 2016. In January, the nation’s top intelligence agencies published a report saying that Russia interfered in the election to discredit Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump, who has often appeared reluctant to embrace the findings. More recent coordinated online political attacks suggest pro-Russian bots are gearing up for the 2018 Congressional elections.

Russia’s role and any connections to President Trump’s administration has been the subject of a wide-ranging probe by special counsel Robert Mueller and multiple congressional committees. Mueller was named to the post after Trump fired former FBI director James Comey, who had led the Russia investigation, in May.

Top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly rejected accusations the country meddled in the US election. Putin told NBC News in June that there’s “no proof” of any involvement by Russia at the “state level”.

The drumbeat of news about Russia’s role in the election have only helped push relations with the US to post-Cold War lows. Bloomberg

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