Facebook admitted to congressional investigators Wednesday that it sold political ads to a Russian firm during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, according to The Washington Post.
Representatives for the company allege that it didn’t discover the details of its own deal until later on. A company spokesman told CNN in July that they’ve “seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election.”
Most of the advertisements didn’t focus on then-Republican nominee Donald Trump or then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Instead, they addressed a number of other highly schismatic political issues, like gay rights, gun rights, immigration, and racism, reports WaPo.
Facebook says that during a probe, it found that 3,300 ads were connected to the Russian company, and 470 “suspicious and likely fraudulent” accounts and pages also appeared to be connected to that firm, which likely promoted the ads.
“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,” a Facebook official told WaPo. “Our data policy and federal law limit our ability to share user data and content, so we won’t be releasing any ads.”
Senate Intel Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner has raised concerns that Facebook’s ad targeting services may have boosted the prevalence of “fake news” on the platform. The top Democrat on the committee said in early August that he needed more time to talk with officials at Facebook to discuss how Russians could purposefully spread such misleading or fraudulent news. Warner was also worried that certain Russian actors may have been loosely corresponding with Trump’s campaign, although no evidence has yet been identified.
Facebook’s concession comes after several months of suspicions that the social media company naturally helped spread false information, thus confusing American voters in the process. Many credited (or blamed) Trump winning the presidency to the apparent rise of “fake news,” despite the fact that a study conducted by economists at Stanford University and New York University showed otherwise.
Regardless, the company has pushed forward its campaign to purge such news from the platform after being pressured by a number of people to do something about the problem, according to The New York Times. It has since made several changes to how news is offered, including adding vetting steps with assistance from dubiously impartial organizations.
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