Reports: Facebook Sold Micro-Targeted Election Ads to Russian Trolls

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

The Washington Post and Politico reported this evening that Facebook has disclosed to congressional investigators that they've identified Russian accounts that purchased advertisements targeting specific voters during the 2016 election.

From the Washington Post:

A small portion of the ads, which began in the summer of 2015, directly named Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the people said. Most of the ads focused on pumping politically divisive issues such as gun rights and immigration fears, as well as gay rights and racial discrimination. [...]

Even though the ad spending from Russia is tiny relative to overall campaign costs, the report from Facebook that a Russian firm was able to target political messages is likely to fuel pointed questions from investigators about whether the Russians received guidance from people in the United States — a question some Democrats have been asking for months.

From Politico:

Facebook found some $100,000 in ad spending from June 2015 through May 2017 connected to about 470 accounts that were deemed as inauthentic and in violation of its internal guidelines. These accounts – associated with about 3,000 ads – were connected to each other “and likely operated out of Russia,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote in a Wednesday blog post.

While the “vast majority” of those ads didn’t reference any specific presidential candidate, or even the election itself, Stamos explained that the Russian ads that Facebook uncovered were designed to amplify hot-button social and political issues, such as LGBT rights, race, immigration and gun rights.

The question on everyone's minds is how did the Russians know which voters to target with these ads? They micro-targeted specific voters in specific states and served up advertisements for fake news stories designed to stir the pot and sow discontent.

I think we already know the answer to that. Only a domestic political campaign would know which voters to target in this manner and much has been made out of the data operation behind Trump's campaign which was overseen by his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

I can't sit here and say that's definitely how the Russian troll farms got their hands of this kind of data without proof, but the stars are close to aligning.

  • Draxiar

    While a domestic political campaign is quite likely there may have also been some clever search engine optimization at work too.

    • ninjaf

      I think that the Russian MO in other countries has been to partner with someone in the country with knowledge of the electorate. I could be wrong.

  • muselet

    On the plus side, Donald Trump and his family are losing their plausible deniability moment by moment.

    On the minus side, the Russians aren’t stupid. The next time they ratfuck an election, they’ll hide their tracks better.


    • ninjaf

      I think they wanted it known that they were involved this time. As a special “F*ck you” to Clinton.

      • muselet

        I see this element of Russian meddling as a proof-of-concept. Now they know they can (maybe) nudge public opinion at the margins and better understand how to stay undetected by Facebook (and other sites, too, more than likely).

        Flipping off Hillary Clinton would just be a bonus.