There's been a lot of talk about how Donald Trump was aided by Putin and Russian tech firms generally in his bid for the presidency. Somehow, none of this has yet led to the impeachment process, but the conspiracy hasn't left anyone untouched. That includes one of our most precious social media resources: Facebook.
On Wednesday, Facebook told congressional investigators that they had sold ads to a Russian "troll farm" that targeted American voters. Considering what you've probably been seeing on Facebook in the form of dank political memes and completely fake news, this probably isn't so shocking. But it does make Facebook look very, very bad. In the New Yorker cartoon published Monday, Mark Zuckerberg is getting taken to task for his relationship to Russia, and his old buddy, Putin:
Maybe that's unfair to Zuckerberg, but remember that just after the elections he laughed off the idea that Facebook could have influenced the election in anyway, according to CNN.
"Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook -- of which it's a small amount of content -- influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea," Zuckerberg said at the time.
Um, do you even use Facebook, dude?
Meanwhile, Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos issued an official statement on the Russian ads:
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. We don’t allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook, and as a result, we have since shut down the accounts and Pages we identified that were still active.
Of those 3,000 ads, 25% were geographically targeted, which means the Pepe disseminators likely had some sort of plan in regards to their work. And the whole thing was possible because Facebook uses a "self-service ad model," meaning that unless something is flagged for content, anyone can pretty much advertise on there as they like.
And CNN reports that the majority of those ads were used to amplify "divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."
If you're still skeptical that this is a thing, check out this short segment produced for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, in which she interviews some of the real people behind the fake news: