Facebook has targeted Russia in a review of ad purchases, searching for those which originated in Russia or used the Russian language from an IP address in the US - even though the ads "didn't necessarily violate any policy or law."
The social network released a statement on Wednesday, addressing claims that Russia had interfered in the US presidential election.
"There have been a lot of questions since the 2016 US election about Russian interference in the electoral process..." the site wrote.
"One question that has emerged is whether there's a connection between Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook. These are serious claims and we've been reviewing a range of activity on our platform to help understand what happened."
Facebook claims that its review found that approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June 2015 to May 2017 – associated with roughly 3,000 ads – was "connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and pages in violation of our policies."
It goes on to accuse Russia of being behind the "inauthentic accounts," stating that the analysis suggests the "accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia."
Following the analysis, the site shut down the accounts and pages that were still active, Facebook said, stressing that "we don't allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook."
However, the statement admits that the "vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn't specifically reference the US presidential election, voting, or a particular candidate."
Still, Facebook manages to perceive a connection: the ads, it says, 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."
An unnamed Facebook employee went as far as to mention unspecified connections between the ads and something known as a "troll factory" in St. Petersburg, often mentioned by Western mainstream media as the source of Russian "propaganda" on social media.
Facebook's hunt for Russian misbehavior doesn't stop at "inauthentic ads." It also casts a wide net for legitimate ads originating in Russia – or even "those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort."
That connection could be as tentative as language settings on the accounts that bought the ads: those with American IP addresses but set to Russian language, even though they "didn't necessarily violate any policy or law."
"In this part of our review, we found approximately $50,000 in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads," the statement reads.
While admitting that its findings include ads which are perfectly legitimate both under federal law and its own guidelines, Facebook still shared the information "with US authorities investigating these issues."
It also briefed members of the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees on Wednesday about the suspected Russian advertising, Reuters reported, citing a congressional source familiar with the matter. Both committees are hunting for evidence of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including potential collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump's campaign.
Facebook also reportedly delivered its findings to Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of investigating the alleged Russian interference, a source told Reuters.
The social network's latest statement comes after Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, met with Facebook officials in July as part of the committee's investigation into Russia's alleged election interference.
Meanwhile, there remains a complete lack of evidence that Russia interfered in the US presidential election or colluded with President Trump in any way - a point that has been reiterated numerous times by the US president himself.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called claims of Russian meddling "nonsense," and has accused the US of repeatedly interfering in Moscow's politics, "especially aggressively" in the 2012 presidential elections.
- Published in World