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Facebook has divulged that it could have earned up to US$150 000 from Russian ads that targeted the 2016 United States election.
The company studied ads bought between June 2015 and May 2017 and found 3000 that were connected to 470 accounts promoting content that violated its policies. These ads were all “likely operated out of Russia”, and brought in US$100 000.
Another study looked at a broader range of ads that could have Russian origin, including those with US IP addresses and the language set to Russian. This search found around 2200 politically-related ads. They accounted for another US$50 000.
Many of the ads, Facebook said, did not specifically mention presidential candidates or the election, but rather divisive social issues like immigration, LGBT-rights, and race issues.
Many of the ads, Facebook said, did not specifically mention presidential candidates or the election
It is believed that Russian hackers targeted an increasingly fragile and divided US society to create distrust of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and promote now-US President Donald Trump.
In a white paper published in April, Facebook said that the use of false news was “statistically very small compared to overall engagement on political issues”. In the second quarter of 2016, Facebook pulled in US$6-billion in ad revenue.
Facebook has turned over the data to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently running the investigation on the hacking. Mueller is looking at Russia’s efforts to influence the election, and whether or not Trump’s administration colluded with the Kremlin.
Facebook has since announced extra measures it will use to avoid the spreading of false information. These include machine-learning that identifies spam, limiting links that disguise their true destinations, and demoting pages that consistently use clickbait or “false news”.