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Facebook says 'likely' Russian operation spent money on ads with divisive political messages

  • An internal Facebook investigation has found it is "likely" Russian operatives spent $100,000 on ads with "divisive messages."
  • About half of the funds potentially purchased ads intended to influence U.S. politics.
  • Though most of the ads did not reference the U.S. presidential election or a specific candidate, they did mention "divisive social and political messages" about subjects including LGBT rights, race issues, immigration and gun control.

An internal Facebook investigation has found it is "likely" Russian operatives spent $100,000 on ads with "divisive messages" between June 2015 and May 2017.

A blog post on the issue, which was published on Wednesday, said the operation involved 3,000 separate ads over a two-year period and was likely to have been run out of Russia. In addition, Facebook found 470 affiliated fake accounts and pages.

About $50,000 of the funds — about 2,200 ads— were potentially related to impacting U.S. politics. The majority of the ads did not reference the U.S. presidential election, voting or a specific candidate. However, the ads focused on "divisive social and political messages" about hot-button topics including LGBT rights, race issues, immigration and gun rights. Facebook has shared its findings with U.S. authorities.

Facebook previously said in April it found evidence some groups used its platform to sway the outcome of the recent election. It did not specify targets or who was behind the attack, but said its own findings did "not contradict" a U.S. Director of National Intelligence report in January about Russian efforts to influence the election.

The company has introduced technology improvements like machine learning to detect fake accounts, in addition to more tactics to stop the spread of misinformation and fake news. Some solutions also include decreasing the influence of "spammers" who spread false news links, lowering the number of articles with "clickbait" headlines that exaggerate information or do not present a full picture, and blocking pages from advertising if they share stories that have been flagged as being false.