Sep 6, 2017

Facebook tells investigators about ads linked to Russia

Nam Y. Huh / AP

Facebook has told authorities investigating Russia's influence on the 2016 election about thousands of ads likely linked to Russia, many of which were connected to "inauthentic" accounts and Pages and focused on drawing attention to divisive social issues.

Why it matters: Congressional investigators — particularly Senate Intel Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner — have raised concerns about the possibility that Facebook's ad targeting tools could have been used to boost the spread of so-called "fake news" with the intention of influencing the election. That's raised questions about whether the Trump campaign could have worked with Russian actors to target that content.

This marks a shift for Facebook: Back in July, a company spokesperson told CNN said, "we have seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election." Importantly, the company isn't claiming to have uncovered any Russian government involvement with the accounts.

By the numbers:

  • Facebook found around 3,000 ads (costing roughly $100,000) that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 and were linked to more than 450 fake pages and accounts. "Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia," said Alex Stamos, the company's Chief Security Officer, in a blog post.
  • Another search looked for ads with links to Russia and included "those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort." That yielded around $50,000 "in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads," Stamos said.
  • This roughly $150,000 is a very small fraction of total digital ad spending in the campaign season.

Ad content: "The vast majority of ads run by [the fake] accounts didn't specifically reference the US presidential election, voting, or a particular candidate," Stamos said. "Rather, 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."

What's next: The social giant says it intends to do more to combat the activities covered in its review. "For example, we are looking at how we can apply the techniques we developed for detecting fake accounts to better detect inauthentic Pages and the ads they may run," Stamos said.

Go deeper

White House recommends Americans wear masks in public

New Yorker wearing a homemade face covering. Photo: Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The White House announced that the CDC is recommending Americans wear cloth masks or face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, President Trump said at a press briefing on Friday — emphasizing the guidance is "voluntary."

Why it matters: The use of face coverings could stop people who have the virus, whether they have symptoms or not, from spreading it further when they go out in public.

Trump calls to fill up more places with oil

President Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil, in the wake of rock-bottom prices and an ensuing economic collapse of the sector itself.

Driving the news: Trump’s comments came Friday during a televised portion of a meeting he hosted with industry CEOs to discuss ways to help the sector. It’s reeling from a historic drop-off in demand with the world shutting down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4:30 p.m. ET: 1,083,084 — Total deaths: 58,243 — Total recoveries: 225,422Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4:30 p.m. ET: 266,671 — Total deaths: 6,921 — Total recoveries: 9,445Map.
  3. 2020 latest: Wisconsin governor calls for last-minute primary election delay.
  4. Oil latest: The amount of gasoline American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows.
  5. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start.
  6. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.