Fake Facebook accounts likely operating in Russia bought thousands of ads on the social media platform around the 2016 election, specifically targeting argument-causing issues like gun rights and race relations.
That's according to Facebook itself, which on Wednesday went over its findings in a hearing with congressional investigators, the Washington Post reported. Afterward, Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos wrote a blog post with additional details.
This discovery came after a review Facebook did in the wake of the 2016 election and questions about Russia's attempts to influence it, according to the blog post.
Note: Sen. Al Franken's office responded to a request for comment Thursday afternoon. His statement is below.
How many ads, and when they ran
Facebook found about 3,000 ads that ran from June 2015 through May 2017. Those ads came from 470 accounts that were "inauthentic" or violating Facebook policy, Stamps said, and amounted to about $100,000 in ad spending.
Those account pages were probably working together and likely operated out of Russia, Facebook concluded. About a quarter were geographically targeted to users, according to Stamos.
The New York Times reports the accounts were created by the Russian-run Internet Research Agency, which is known for spreading troll accounts (referred to as a "troll farm").
The review also found $50,000 of spending on 2,200 ads that were "potentially politically related," but didn't originate in Russia or have any strong signals they were tied to an organized effort, Stamos said.
The ads touched on hypersensitive topics
Facebook didn't reveal any examples of these ads. But Stamos said most of them did not mention any candidate specifically.
Instead, many of the ads "appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages," Stamos wrote. (Some did mention Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, however, the Washington Post reports.)
The ads usually touched on topics like LGBTQ and race issues, immigration policies, and gun rights, Stamos wrote. Things that are hypersensitive and could get some of the 2 billion global Facebook users riled up, in essence. (And if you've used Facebook, you know it doesn't have a great reputation for civil discourse anyway.)
Also of note: Top intelligence officialspublicly agreed one of the main goals of Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 election was to cause discord, friction, and hostility among the American people.
Manipulating political discussion
It's a problem Facebook identified in an April report – coordinated efforts to amplify and spread certain messages, with the ultimate goal of manipulating the political discussion.
Stamos said the 3,000 ads found in this recent review fit that profile.
Facebook has given its findings – including copies of the ads and who bought them – to Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, The Hill reports.
Mark Zuckerberg, in the days after the election, said the idea that fake news on Facebook might have influenced things was a "pretty crazy idea."
'This is worrying,' Franken says
In the statement to GoMN, Franken said his worries are "not only about how the Russians exploited social media in order to interfere in the election, but also about what social media platforms do with the information they collect from users."
He said Minnesotans should know what companies such as Facebook do to make sure personal user data isn't used nefariously.
Franken also said congressional committees that are investigating election interference by Russia – and there are a handful – should examine Russian operatives' use of "sophisticated targeted advertising" on Facebook to spread false information and influence the election.