Senator says Facebook's Russian ads suggest need for new law
10 September, 2017, 14:11 | Author: Patsy Dennis
Revelations that Russian-linked accounts paid for thousands of political ads to appear on Facebook during last year's presidential election may be just "the tip of the iceberg", according to a top USA lawmaker.
While the amount of money involved was relatively small, enough to buy roughly 3,000 ads, the accounts or pages violated Facebook policies and were eventually shut down, according to Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos.
Outside groups, including Common Cause, filed a complaint with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission Thursday alleging that the Facebook disclosures mean unknown foreign nationals made campaign ad expenditures in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act.
Facebook has detailed how fake news infiltrated its platform during the United States presidential election campaign, and outlined how it plans to safeguard against similar attempts in the future.
A quarter of the Russian-linked ads, Stamos added, were geographically targeted at specific Facebook audiences in the US, and majority ran in 2015 before the first primaries and caucuses when the GOP and Democratic presidential fields were still packed with multiple candidates.
In the future, Facebook will continue to study and monitor those who spread misinformation and try to educate those who are at risk about how they can keep their information safe, it said.
Facebook uncovered the information and shared with investigators examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The sponsored Facebook ads pop up near the top of Facebook users' private news feeds.
At the same time, $100,000 worth of ads is a drop in the bucket compared with the billions of dollars in business that Facebook does every year.
The company said it found no link to any presidential campaign. It's unclear how Facebook identified accounts tied to the Internet Research Agency, and it's unclear if there are others waiting to be discovered.
Beyond the issue ads, Facebook said it uncovered $50,000 more in overtly political advertising that might have a link to Russian Federation. "One question that has emerged is whether there's a connection between the Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook".
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A Facebook official said "there is evidence that some of the accounts are linked to a troll farm in St. Petersburg, referred to as the Internet Research Agency, though we have no way to independently confirm".
Clint Watts, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who has studied Russian online influence campaigns, said Wednesday that Facebook's report served as "validation" for findings by him and his researchers, who he said had spotted what they believed to be Russians posing as Americans to press political messages on Facebook as early as 2015. We've seen them take down certain pages.
Stamos, the Facebook security chief, said the company is committed to continuing to protect the integrity of its site and improve its ability to track fraudulent accounts. He said he would like to see other social media companies, including Twitter, conduct similar investigations and share the results. The foreign-money ban also prohibits USA citizens from giving "substantial assistance" to would-be foreign donors or spenders in elections.
If Russia were found to have used front companies or loosely regulated US nonprofit groups to hide the source of funding while spreading fake or harshly critical news about Clinton over Facebook, then investigators would want to know whether any were targeted to swing states or districts crucial to Trump's upset victory. "And if, in fact, there was foreign money that went into advertising in USA elections, that's a Justice Department thing to look at, it's an FEC question, because foreign money can not be used on behalf of elections".
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