Facebook Inc (FB) said on Wednesday it has enough evidence to prove that ad spending related to fake accounts is “likely operated out of Russia.” A few hours after this announcement, the company handed over copies of Russian ads and the identities of the ad buyers to special counsel Robert Mueller, according to Reuters.
Russian ads with a political agenda
Facebook Inc (FB) claimed that about $100,000 was spent on ads between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages which the company believes were “likely operated out of Russia.” The social networking company has closed those accounts.
Facebook Inc (FB) has submitted the findings to U.S. authorities, who were already investigating Russian interference in the latest Presidential elections. However, the company also agreed that most of the advertisements did not have a political overtone to them. Further, the Russian ads that did have a political tone to them were focused on issues such as LGBT matters, race issues, gun rights, immigration and others. About one-quarter of such ads were geographically targeted, and more were featured in 2015.
Facebook Inc (FB) did not reveal the nature of the ads in the question or how the scheme operated, but the tactics were in tandem with those outlined in a white paper on information operations published by the company in April. The white paper was about trolls and foreign agents who create false accounts only to spread fake news and disinformation in public, notes Slate.
Why do these ads matter?
Facebook Inc (FB) might reduce the intensity of the matter by saying that the majority of the ads did not have any political agenda, but it seems like the Russian fake account holders achieved what they wanted to by posting discordant messages on different topics. There could be no platform better than Facebook Inc (FB) with an audience of about 2 billion active users, which is enough to spread news like wildfire. For instance, the fake news about Pope Francis endorsing Trump for the presidency was shared more than 1 million times.
In addition, $100,000 might not sound like a great deal of money, but it does hold significance for various reasons. The amount confirms that Facebook Inc (FB) was one of the ways that the Russians used to influence the elections, although not at the level that was previously thought. This new finding also suggests that the issue of fake news is even more sinister that what many previously believed.
That does not mean that Facebook Inc (FB) is not taking steps to stop the fake news problem. Apart from upgrading the platform on the technology front, such as by enhancing machine learning, the company is also working on bringing down the influence of “spammers” who spread links to fake false news. The company also works to catch articles with “clickbait” headlines that exaggerate information or reveal only half the truth.
In related news, Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser claimed in a recent report that Facebook Inc (FB) might be exaggerating its ad reach data. Rejecting the findings, the Menlo Park, California-based company stated that its metrics are not designed to match population or census estimates.
On Wednesday, Facebook Inc (FB) shares closed up 0.8% at $172.09. Year to date, the stock is up almost 50%, while in the last year, it is up more than 36%.