Russia-Linked Fake Accounts Bought $100K in Bogus Ads During 2016 Election, Facebook Says

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Facebook says a company-led investigation found $100,000 in advertising spending by hundreds of fake accounts and pages, likely operated out of Russia, which were put up in an effort to stir controversy during the 2016 presidential election.

The ads ran between June 2015 and May 2017, with a distinct “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum,” the company said in a statement. Many of the ads concerned hot-button social and political issues, including LGBT, race, immigration and gun rights, and were linked to about 470 fake accounts and pages.

“Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos said.

The ads are part of an attack Facebook calls “information operations,” which it considers more nefarious than the just “fake news.” Facebook said it has since deleted the offending accounts and says it is working to prevent new attacks in the future.

The announcement by Facebook could further fuel speculation about Russian’s involvement in the 2016 presidential race and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Kremlin, which is at the center of the the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Congress.

This isn’t the first time Facebook ads have been subject to scrutiny. As TheWrap reported in November, Trump’s campaign may have used targeted Facebook ads and innocent-seeming quizzes in the weeks before the presidential election to identify Hillary Clinton voters and discourage them from showing up at the polls.

In the weeks before the election, Trump’s team had been quietly mining Facebook, investing $100 million in personality quizzes and “dark posts” — which are essentially ads that can only be seen by the recipients — to raise more than $250 million in campaign donations and suppress vulnerable Clinton voters.

In its review, Facebook acknowledged that found another $50,000 in political ad spending from other accounts connected with Russia.

President Trump has repeatedly dismissed reports of Russian hacking as “fake news.”

Facebook did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

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