Facebook gives investigators new details on Russian ads

The social networking giant has given copies of ads and other information involving what it's learned from the 2016 election, according to a report in The WSJ.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
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Facebook has said Russian-linked accounts bought ads about election-related issues.

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Facebook has sent government investigators new records about Russian-linked ads placed on its service during the 2016 election campaign, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The information, including copies of ads and details about accounts that bought them, was shared with special counsel Robert Mueller, the late Friday report said, citing people familiar with the matter. Mueller and a team of investigators are looking into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

"We continue to cooperate with the relevant investigative authorities," a Facebook spokesman said. The Department of Justice didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move comes a week after Facebook said it identified about 500 "inauthentic accounts" that bought $100,000 of ads that targeted highly politicized social issues such as immigration, guns and LGBT rights.

"Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia," Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer, wrote in a blog post at the time

Facebook's disclosure marked a new turn in the high-profile Russia investigation, which has raised issues concerning President Donald Trump's election last year, the involvement of his children and the actions of his staff. At issue is how much the Russian government may have attempted to influence the electorate, and whether Trump or anyone working for him knowingly was involved. Trump has repeatedly denied involvement.

For its part, Silicon Valley is coming to grips with how much its services may have been used to sway the election. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who at first downplayed the impact his company's social network may have had on the spread of false news, has now embraced those concerns and is working to address them. Those efforts include working with news organizations to identify false news, and shutting down advertising access to accounts that repeatedly spread it.

Facebook's disclosure is bringing attention to Google and Twitter as well. 

For its part, Google has said there's no evidence such ads were purchased on its service, and a person familiar with the matter said the company hasn't been called to testify on the topic. "We're always monitoring for abuse or violations of our policies and we've seen no evidence this type of ad campaign was run on our platforms," a Google spokesperson said.

Twitter declined to comment. In a June blog post it discussed ways it's attempting to halt the spread of misinformation on its service, promising it was "doubling down" on the problem. 

First published Sept. 15, 5:23 p.m. PT.
Update, 10:23 p.m.: Adds responses from Twitter and Google.