Who’s the shadowy Russian group behind the Facebook ads?

Facebook hands over 3,000 political ads linked to Internet Research Agency ‘troll farm’

Facebook logos are pictured on the screens of a smartphone (R), and a laptop computer, in central London on November 21, 2016 
(Image credit: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook is handing 3,000 adverts to Congress, buckling under public pressure after it revealed that a Russian propaganda organisation paid $100,000 (£74,000) for political advertising on its platform before Donald Trump’s election.

The information is expected to provide an insight into the obscure Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm”, PBS reports.

Dubbed a “shadowy news service with ties to the Kremlin” by CNN, the Internet Research Agency has come under scrutiny as part of a sweeping investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 US election.

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But many of its adverts did not refer to the election directly.

“Rather, 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,” Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos said in a blog post.

They also promoted some 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages of fictional people purported to be American activists. Facebook says it has subsequently suspended the accounts.

Twitter has also handed over data. CNN says the Internet Research Agency is responsible for some 50 accounts on that platform, with a total of more than 600,000 followers. Most of these accounts give no hint of their Russian links, using apparently all-American handles like the now-defunct @tpartynews.

Some of the Facebook and Twitter accounts praised Trump and derided Hillary Clinton. President Trump hit out at the news on Friday.

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Kremlin mouthpiece Russia Today reported today that the Russian government denies any involvement.

“We don't know who placed the advertisements on Facebook or how, and have never done it. The Russian side has never been part of it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Criticism of Facebook’s lack of transparency over political advertising and reluctance to hand over the data has “underscored how far the social network has strayed from being a mere technology company”, the New York Times says.

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