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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

Updated 1 min ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
3 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.