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Facebook finds Russia-based fake news campaign

September 7, 2017

Facebook has uncovered a potentially Russian-backed campaign advertising politically and socially divisive messages. The company is cooperating with US authorities after identifiying almost 500 "inauthentic" accounts.

Deutschland Facebook gibt Einblick ins Berliner Löschzentrum
Image: picture alliance/dpa/S. Stache

Hundreds of fake Facebook accounts linked to Russia spent $100,000 (€€84,000) on political ads around the 2016 US presidential election, the social media site revealed on Wednesday.

Between June 2015 and May 2017, 470 accounts bought ads touting fake or misleading news or directing users to pages with such content, a Facebook official said.

The 3,000 ads did not specifically reference the election, a candidate or voting, but they did allow the amplification of "divisive messages" on issues such as immigration, race and gay rights, according to Facebook.

Read more: Facebook bolsters fight against fake news in Germany

Cleaning up fake news

Facebook said it identified a further $50,000 spent on about 2,200 "potentially politically related" ads that it said might have been bought by Russians in potential violation of US election law.

Facebook's chief security officer, Alex Stamos, announced the findings in a blog post, saying the corporation was cooperating with federal inquiries into potential Russian meddling in the presidential election.

The accounts were linked to a notorious St. Petersburg-based "troll farm" known for promoting pro-Russian government positions through fake accounts, two people familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press.

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Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said Facebook's disclosure confirmed the suspicions of lawmakers investigating Russian interference.

"One of the things that we're interested obviously in finding out is whether there was any coordination in terms of the use of those paid social media trolls or the Russian use of bots," he said.

Read more: FBI raids former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's home

A report by ad market specialty firm Borrell Associates found more than $1.4 billion was spent on online political advertising during the 2016 election cycle in the US.

Tech giants such as Facebook have been cracking down on so-called "fake news" after the 2016 election campaign.

aw/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)