September 6, 2017
By VINDU GOEL and SCOTT SHANE
SAN FRANCISCO — Hundreds of fake Facebook accounts and pages apparently operated out of Russia bought $100,000 in political ads on Facebook during the presidential campaign last year, the company disclosed on Wednesday.
The revelations about ads on the social network can only add to the continuing political skirmishing in Washington over Russia’s role in the election. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and the Senate and House intelligence committees are all investigating the matter, including the possibility that someone with ties to President Trump’s campaign worked with Russia.
Facebook officials said the fake accounts and pages had been connected to a shadowy Russian company called the Internet Research Agency, which is known for using “troll” accounts to post on social media and comment on news websites.
Most of the 3,000 ads did not refer to particular candidates but instead focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to a Facebook post by Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer. The ads violated Facebook’s policies, and the company said it had shut down the 470 pages and accounts associated with them.
tamos said Facebook is cooperating with the investigations.
Facebook, which offers a sophisticated level of targeting to advertisers, has been in the center of a storm over the role that it played in propagating fake news and other misleading information during the campaign.
In its review of election-related advertising, Facebook said it had also found an additional $50,000 in potential political ad spending from other accounts connected with Russia.
In a January report, the F.B.I., C.I.A. and National Security Agency concluded that the Russian government was responsible for hacking Democratic targets and leaking thousands of emails and other documents in an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The report also found that Russian “trolls,” or paid social media users, had posted anti-Clinton messages. But it did not address the question of advertising.
One question underlying the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is whether Russia-sponsored operators would have needed any guidance from American political experts. Facebook said that some of the ads linked to Russian accounts had targeted particular geographic areas, which may raise questions about whether anyone had helped direct such targeting.
President Trump has often dismissed the Russian hacking story as “fake news” and bristled at any implication that the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, had helped him win. To date, while news reports have uncovered many meetings and contacts between Trump associates and Russians, there has been no evidence proving collusion in the hacking or other Russian activities.