Russian political Facebook ads were seen by up to 10m Americans

FacebookFacebook has revealed that around 10m people in the US saw the Russia-linked ads, that were aimed at impacting the 2016 presidential election, from June 2015 to May 2017.

The social network admitted last month that approximately 3,000 ads, connected to roughly 470 fake accounts and pages, had been run by Russian groups that violated its policies. These ads accounted for around $100,000 (£75,480) in ad spend.

The true extent of the attempts to affect the presidential election have now been shared, after Facebook met with Congress to share further details about what occurred.

The ads are said to have appeared “to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights,” according to Elliot Schrage, VP of policy and communications at Facebook. These messages also encouraged people to follow Pages relating to the issues addressed.

44 per cent of total ad impressions were before the US election, while 56 per cent were seen after. Around 25 per cent of ads never reached anyone at all. In addition, half of the ads had a spend of less than $3 – 99 per cent of ads a spend of less than $1,000.

Facebook had long been adamant that its platform hadn’t been used by Russia to spread propaganda relating to the presidential election, something that it has since had to admit it was wrong about.

“The 2016 US election was the first where evidence has been widely reported that foreign actors sought to exploit the internet to influence voter behaviour,” said Schrage. “We understand more about how our service was abused and we will continue to investigate to learn all we can. We know that our experience is only a small piece of a much larger puzzle. Congress and the Special Counsel are best placed to put these pieces together because they have much broader investigative power to obtain information from other sources.”

On the back of this, Facebook is putting steps in place to prevent something like this happening again.

In a separate post, Facebook’s VP of global public policy Joel Kaplan laid the improvements the social network was making. Improvements include making advertising more transparent, strengthening enforcement by bringing in 1,000 more people to its ads review team, introducing tighter restrictions on advertiser content, requiring more documentation from advertisers who want to run political ads, and establishing industry standards and best practices.