Social media giant Facebook has reportedly turned over information they have on ads allegedly purchased by Russian operatives to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller is currently investigating Russia’s reported interference during the US Presidential elections in 2016.
The consensus among the intelligence agencies in the US is that Russia conducted an “influence” campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Russia is said to have hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the personal email account of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The data obtained from these hacks were allegedly forwarded to Wikileaks. Russia allegedly played a role in flooding social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter with fake news stories depicting Hillary Clinton negatively.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement in the matter. US President Donald Trump has been enigmatic with his views. He has stated that other countries could also be involved. Meanwhile, Trump has tried to pursue warmer relations with Putin.
In May 2017, the Department of Justice (DoJ) appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into the Russian interference and related matters. He is also investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections.
Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigations and has also assembled a team to aid him with the investigations.
According to a report in Washington Post, Facebook has turned over all information about ads "likely" purchased by Russian operatives to Robert Mueller and his team. The social media platform has admitted to finding approximately $100,000 worth of ads connected to Russia.
Alex Stamos, Chief Security Officer took to Facebook and wrote about the developments noting, “In reviewing the ads buys, we have found approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000 ads — that was connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies. Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.”
However, he wrote that most of these ads that were purchased did not specifically reference the US presidential election or a particular candidate but they amplified divisive political messages. He wrote, “The ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
Our assessment is that Facebook data confirms that operatives within Russia did play a role in creating a divisive environment in America during the elections. However, it remains to be seen if this will affect the US President Donald Trump’s administration in the White House. This is also a signal to governments across the world to begin assessing and addressing the threat posed by “fake news” and misinformation campaigns.