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Russia-linked Facebook ads seen by 10 million users

The social network details data on ads with ties to Russia that were placed on the service during the 2016 US election campaign.

Congress is examining whether ads linked to Russian accounts attempted to meddle with the 2016 US election.
Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

About 10 million Facebook users saw Russian-linked ads placed on its service during the 2016 US election campaign, the social media giant said Monday.

About 44 percent of the ads were seen before election, while 56 percent were seen afterward, Elliot Schrage, the company's vice president of policy and communications, wrote in a blog post. The figures were among the data Facebook shared with Congress over concerns the ads may have influenced the 2016 presidential election.

"Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights," Schrage wrote. "A number of them appear to encourage people to follow Pages on these issues."

The revelation comes nearly a month after Facebook said it identified about 500 "inauthentic accounts" that bought $100,000 worth of ads that targeted highly politicized social issues such as immigration, guns and LGBT rights. Facebook has sent records of the ads to government investigators looking into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

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 was knowingly involved. Trump has repeatedly denied involvement.

Schrage revealed that some of the ads were paid for in Russian currency, but said that alone wasn't an effective way of identifying suspicious behavior.

"The overwhelming majority of advertisers who pay in Russian currency, like the overwhelming majority of people who access Facebook from Russia, aren't doing anything wrong," Schrage wrote. "We did use this as a signal to help identify these ads, but it wasn't the only signal.

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 the 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.

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