Facebook says “inauthentic” accounts bought roughly 3,000 ads.
A number of Russian-controlled Facebook Pages and accounts spent approximately $ 100,000 on Facebook ads meant to “amplify divisive social and political messages” in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook confirmed in a blog post Wednesday.
Facebook said that “about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies” bought roughly 3,000 Facebook ads between June 2015 and May 2017. The accounts and Pages were “likely operated out of Russia,” according to Facebook’s blog.
The Washington Post, which first reported the news Wednesday, claims that the ads were purchased by “a Russian ‘troll farm’ with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda.”
Another 2,200 ads, which cost approximately $ 50,000, were bought by other groups with links to Russia, but were “not associated with any known organized effort.”
Facebook says the “vast majority” of the ads “didn’t specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting or a particular candidate,” but admitted that they focused on polarizing issues, like LGBT rights, race issues and gun matters. So they weren’t traditional political ads, but still carried political messages.
It was already known that Russia meddled in last fall’s U.S. election, and that Facebook was weaponized to help spread misinformation during the campaign. Facebook has taken steps since the election to try and squash so-called fake news from gaining traction on the platform, including efforts to punish publishers that pay to promote false information.
Facebook says that all of the accounts and Pages responsible for this $ 100,000 worth of ad spend have been shut down.
There are still a number of unanswered questions.
It’s unclear, for example, what impact these ads may have had, or who actually saw them. It’s unknown who was targeted, or the specifics about what the ads contained. Facebook said only that the ads were intended to “amplify divisive messages,” and were “consistent with the techniques” used by Russian actors who spread misinformation on the social network ahead of the election.
And while $ 100,000 may sound like a lot, it’s not a lot in the world of political advertising, and certainly not a lot for Facebook. Donald Trump, for example, spent more than $ 90 million on advertising during his campaign; Facebook generated almost $ 27 billion in ad revenue in 2016.
It’s also unclear if this disclosure by Facebook includes all election-specific ad spending from Russia, or just what was previously reported by the Washington Post.
When asked, a Facebook spokesperson said: “This is what we have been able to identify.” It’s possible, then, that there are other ads still unaccounted for.
Regardless, it is clear that Facebook was weaponized by people in Russia in the run-up to last fall’s presidential election. Immediately after the election, CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that Facebook might have had an impact on the outcome.
“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook … influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” he said at the time.