What Facebook Told Congress Suggests its Russian Ad Problem Could Be Bigger Than it Looks

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Noah Berger/AP File Photo

Some Congress members, however, believe that the company has yet to quantify the full scope of the problem.

Earlier this month, Facebook admitted that Russian-linked ad buyers had spent $150,000 on US political ads during the 2016 election campaign. But there could have been more ads bought than that, according to people briefed in recent days on the company’s closed-door testimony to Congress. And those ads probably also had more impact than previously assumed, because they led users to steady streams of other content.

Facebook executives appeared in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election earlier this month and today (Sept. 21). Two people briefed on the testimony told Quartz that Facebook first started looking at whether Russian ad buyers had tried to influence the 2016 US election this spring.

Facebook’s initial search was for buyers who took out potentially political ads and either self-identified as Russian, had Russian set as their language, had a Russian IP address, or paid for the ad in Russian rubles. That search turned up 2,000 ads worth $50,000.

Afterwards, Facebook “dove in,” said one of the people briefed, further investigating the buyers it had identified in the initial search. That uncovered an additional 3,000 political ads worth $100,000, which were linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm,” as Facebook disclosed this month.

Some Congress members, however, believe that the company has yet to quantify the full scope of the problem. “It is very likely there are other ads placed by Russians” that may have influenced the election, said a Congressional staffer briefed on the testimony. “It’s not that difficult to conceal your IP address by getting a VPN, and to use PayPal” to convert your payment from rubles. The $150,000 that Facebook has made public “is the low-hanging fruit,” the staffer said.

Facebook’s testimony also explained how the ads’ impact could have persisted long after the ads themselves stopped appearing. The ads weren’t all overtly anti-Hillary Clinton or pro-Donald Trump, the staffer said. Some touted gun rights, others championed secure borders, another was about liking dogs—and they all led readers who clicked on them to certain Facebook pages. If a user “liked” a page, it would send a regular stream of content onto that user’s Facebook feed.

Judging by US intelligence agencies’ January report on what Russia was trying to do, Russia’s propaganda effort was focused on “denigrating” Hillary Clinton and harming her “electability and potential presidency.” But it is impossible for anyone outside Facebook to gauge whether that’s what these pages were doing, because Facebook has since taken the pages down. The company is sharing copies of the ads and of these pages with the Congressional committee and other investigators, say the people Quartz spoke to.

Facebook’s agreeing to hand over the ads marked a “shift in tone” from the company’s last testimony, said the staffer. Previously it had refused to allow Congress to keep the materials on privacy grounds.

In response to questions about the meetings, a Facebook spokesman pointed Quartz to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s statement today. “We will continue our investigation into what happened on Facebook in this election,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We may find more, and if we do, we will continue to work with the government.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.