Facebook Identifies $100,000 In Ad Spending By Fake Accounts With Suspected Ties to Russia

By Shane Harris and Byron TauFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc. said it has identified about 500 "inauthentic" accounts responsible for $100,000 in advertising spending that it believes have ties to Russia, following a review of ad buying on the site in response to intelligence-community concerns about Russian activity during the 2016 election.

Facebook said the ads identified by the social-media giant didn't typically reference any particular political candidate. Rather, the company review found that they focused 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."

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The spending spanned from June 2015 to May 2017, Facebook said. While $100,000 spent over a two-year period is a small sum in modern politics, the revelation could prompt further questions about the scale and scope of Moscow's use of social media to distribute propaganda.

Beyond the 470 fake accounts responsible for the spending, the company found another $50,000 in political ad spending by accounts associated with U.S. internet addresses but with the language set to Russian. It is a violation of Facebook policy to create an "inauthentic accounts" on the platform.

The company revealed its findings in a blog post on Wednesday and said that it was in touch with U.S. investigators about the matter. Russian interference in the U.S. election is being probed by several congressional committees, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation under the direction of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

According to a January report from the U.S. intelligence community, the highest levels of the Russian government were involved in directing the electoral interference in order to boost President Donald Trump at the expense of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Russia's tactics included efforts to hack state election systems; infiltrating and leaking information from party committees and political strategists; and disseminating through social media and other outlets negative stories about Mrs. Clinton and positive ones about the Mr. Trump, the report said.

Moscow has denied meddling in the U.S. election, and Mr. Trump has denied his campaign colluded with Russia and has called the investigations a "witch hunt."

Write to Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com and Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 06, 2017 17:02 ET (21:02 GMT)