Investigations Into Social Media Accounts With Ties to Russia

Four Russian-linked Facebook accounts that bought ads during the U.S. election period were active, posting divisive messages, as late as this past August. “Secured Borders,” “Blacktivist,” “Heart of Texas” and “Being Patriotic” collectively had almost one million followers, before Facebook removed them for misrepresenting their identities. On “Secured Borders,” which had 133,000 followers, messages included those calling for the killing of Muslims and dubbing illegal immigrants “rapists, murderers and child molesters.” Google, Facebook and Twitter are expected to testify before Congress about Russian ties to ad buying, search manipulation and fake news.

The Wall Street Journal notes that, “the pages expressed extreme views on both sides of the U.S. political and social spectrum, espousing radical ideas that demonized opposing viewpoints.” Facebook found 470 accounts with ties to Russia, which spent $100,000 on divisive ads from June 2015 to May 2017. Facebook told congressional investigators that an estimated 10 million users saw the 3,000 ads, which “likely served in part to recruit followers to the pages.”

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Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, “one of two congressional committees probing Russian interference on Facebook and Twitter,” called ads on these platforms likely “the smallest concentric circle of Russian activity and there could very well be a lot more.”

Google, which is conducting an internal investigation, is talking to congressional investigators, but hasn’t said if it found “suspicious activity.” None of the four sites mentioned above had any “obvious wording or labels” of their Russian origin. Facebook warned that, “it is possible that bad actors are still lurking on its social network.”

Bloomberg reports that the Senate has called on executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify on November 1, and a separate House panel is “focusing on any materials on Russian ad buying on Google, search engine manipulations, fake news and the potential uses of YouTube.” Although targets include Gmail and other Google properties, the most vulnerable might be YouTube, where Russia Today, a government-linked media outlet has channels with more than 2.5 million subscribers.

Up until now, Google sold the network (known as “RT”) in its “package of premium ad inventory, which commands higher rates because of its large audience,” but the company “recently pulled RT from this program, known as Google Preferred.”

Related:
Senate Lawmakers Fear Future Elections Are at Risk From Russian Meddling, Recode, 10/4/17
Facebook Fought Rules That Could Have Exposed Fake Russian Ads, Bloomberg, 10/4/17
Russia Targets NATO Soldier Smartphones, Western Officials Say, The Wall Street Journal, 10/4/17