Facebook: Russian accounts ‘likely’ linked to divisive ads during election

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton depart after the presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis on October 8. Facebook said that while a "vast majority" of the ads it sold to fake accounts likely operated out of Russia weren't specifically about the presidential election, many included divisive political and social messages. A smaller portion specifically mentioned Clinton and Trump. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Sept. 6 (UPI) — Facebook representatives told U.S. authorities the social media company sold ads featuring “divisive messages” to fake accounts likely operated out of Russia.

In an internal investigation, Facebook discovered it sold some 3,000 ads between June 2015 and May 2017 for about $100,000 to the “inauthentic accounts.” The accounts “were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” the company said in a blog post Wednesday.

Facebook launched the inquiry after it came under fire for being a platform on which inaccurate political news was shared during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“One question that has emerged is whether there’s a connection between the Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook,” Facebook said. “These are serious claims and we’ve been reviewing a range of activity on our platform to help understand what happened.”

The company said the “vast majority” of the ads didn’t specifically mention the presidential election, though some did mention Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights,” the blog post said.

Members of Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller are investigatingallegations that Russia attempted to meddle in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

The U.S. intelligence community in January concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin had a direct hand in ordering a large-scale effort to interfere with the election in an attempt to get Trump elected. A report from the director of national intelligence said agents of the Kremlin employed third parties to impact the vote. including the Moscow-funded network RT and “trolls” on social media channels.

“We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” Facebook said Wednesday. “We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws. We also care deeply about the authenticity of the connections people make on our platform.”

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