In Brief

Russia ‘influenced election with fake profiles’, Facebook says

Facebook acknowledged that Russian propagandists spent $100,000 on election ads last year

Russian-funded covert propaganda posts from fake profiles on Facebook were likely seen by as many as 70 million Americans during last year’s US Presidential election.

A recent investigation by The New York Times, and new research from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, revealed the mechanisms by which suspected Russian operators used Twitter and Facebook to spread anti-Clinton messages and promote the hacked material they had leaked.

This week Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, revealed that Russia had “likely” used 470 fake accounts to buy about $100,000 worth of advertising promoting “divisive social and political messages” to Americans.

One expert told The Daily Beast that the propaganda posts on Facebook were likely seen by a minimum of 23 million people and might have reached as many as 70 million.

“That means up to 28% of American adults were swept in by the campaign,” says the website.

The New York Times investigation reveals new pages and profiles were set up on the social network by Russians in order to regularly post anti-Clinton rhetoric.

One, now deleted page, called SecureBorders positioned itself as the work of a group of Americans concerned about US border security.

“America is at risk and we need to protect our country now more than ever, liberal hogwash aside,” the page's tagline read.

But an article by the Russian news outlet RBC revealed the page was created and run by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Association, identified in a US intelligence report from January as a farm of “professional trolls” financed by a Vladmir Putin ally.

According to RBC’s investigation, SecureBorders had great success with their posts, like a single post boosted through Facebook ads that was seen by 4 million people, shared 80,000 times, and accrued 300,000 likes.

Facebook says it is studying the 2016 campaign in order to learn how to defend against similar interventions in the future.

“We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote on Wednesday in a post about the Russia-linked fake accounts and ads. “We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse.”

But “critics say that because shareholders judge the companies partly based on a crucial data point — 'monthly active users' — they are reluctant to police their sites too aggressively for fear of reducing that number,” reports the New York Times.

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