×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Facebook Sold Political Ads to Russian Sources During 2016 Election

WASHINGTON. D.C. — Facebook said that it has discovered that Russian-linked sources paid $100,000 for thousands of political ads over the past two years, and has shared that information with authorities investigating Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election.

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. The entity was called the Internet Research Agency.

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote in a blog post that “in reviewing the ads buys, we have found approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000 ads — that was connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies. Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.”

He said that a majority of the ads did not specify any candidate, but “the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

“One question that has emerged is whether there’s a connection between the Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook,” he wrote. “These are serious claims and we’ve been reviewing a range of activity on our platform to help understand what happened.”

He outlined a series of steps the company has been taking to detect fake accounts and to detect inauthentic pages. That includes “reducing stories from sources that consistently post clickbait headlines that withhold and exaggerate information.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees are examining Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election, and whether any Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russian sources.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg tried to address the spread of so-called “fake news” on the platform during the election. In a May white paper, the company outlined steps that they’re taking to try to limit the promotion of such false information.

Facebook’s revelation could also trigger calls for greater public disclosure of the sources of political spending. Broadcasters are required to disclose records of their political ad sales.

Federal law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States. But the Federal Election Commission has allowed foreign sources to spend on ads tied to particular issues.

Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at the campaign and election reform group Issue One, said via email that “the fact that these ads are not public means it is impossible to determine if they threaded the needle described by the FEC.  The fact that there are apparently ads that mention candidates directly seems to be a violation but again one would need to see the ad.”

She said that if there was enough evidence of a violation, the FEC could open and investigation and subpoena the ads, and the Department of Justice also could have a role in a probe.

McGehee said that as political advertising shifts to digital platforms, it is “an open question as to whether the law can keep up with these developments.

“But if there is a wide spread perception that new media are providing effective means for foreign government to spend money aimed at U.S. elections, there will be a greater willingness to consider new approaches,” such as disclosure and tighter regulations, she said.

More Politics

  • Roger Stone (L), longtime advisor to

    Judge Places Gag Order on Roger Stone Case

    WASHINGTON — A federal judge imposed a gag order on Roger Stone’s legal proceedings that places some limitations on what he, his lawyers, and other parties say about the case. Stone, a longtime associate of President Donald Trump, was arrested last month after special counsel Robert Mueller brought charges that he misled the House Intelligence Committee [...]

  • Donald Trump

    Trump Declares National Emergency Because of ‘Invasion’ at Border

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to secure funding to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that is certain to provoke a constitutional legal challenge. In a speech at the Rose Garden at the White House, Trump said, “we are talking about an invasion of our country.” [...]

  • Democratic Debates

    NBC-MSNBC-Telemundo and CNN Land First Two Democratic Debates

    WASHINGTON — NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo will air the first Democratic primary debate in June, and CNN will show the second event in July, the Democratic National Committee announced on Thursday. The DNC is planning 12 presidential primary debates over the 2020 cycle, but news networks had been vying for the rights to air the [...]

  • Donald Trump

    Trump to Declare National Emergency to Build Border Wall, Mitch McConnell Says

    UPDATED WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has indicated that he will sign a spending bill to keep the government open, but also plans to issue an emergency declaration to build a wall or physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday. “I’ve just had an opportunity to speak with [...]

  • William Barr

    Senate Confirms William Barr as Attorney General

    WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed William Barr to be the next attorney general, as his nomination survived Democratic opposition related to concerns over his independence from the Trump White House. He was confirmed by a vote of 54-45. Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content