Facebook says 10 million people saw Russia-linked ads

Mark ZuckerbergGettyFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook revealed on Monday that 10 million of its users saw ads placed by Russia-linked groups designed to foment division in the US before and after the 2016 election.

The admission came after Facebook representatives met with US lawmakers on Monday, and provide important new details about the scope and impact of a shadowy campaign to use the 2-billion member social network as a propaganda tool.

Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, have come under fire for not doing enough to protect their social networks from being misused to spread fake news and other misinformation.

Elliot Schrage, the company’s VP of policy and communications, said in a blog post that 44% of the ads were seen before the 2016 US presidential election and that 56% were seen after the election. 99% of the ads cost less than $US1,000.

“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 said. “A number of them appear to encourage people to follow Pages on these issues.”

On Sunday, Facebook said it would hand over the ads and information about how they were targeted to government investigators responsible for probing Russia’s interference with US elections. The company said on Monday that it planned to hire 1,000 more ad reviewers to help keep politically subversive and divisive ads off its platform.

Schrage noted in the post that some of the ads were paid for in Russian currency. While he said that fact was among various signals used to identify the suspicious ads after the fact, it did not set off alarms at the time the ads were bought since the overwhelming majority of ads bought in Russian currency are legitimate.

“We are dedicated to being an open platform for all ideas — and that may sometimes mean allowing people to express views we — or others — find objectionable,” Schrage said.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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