Facebook has confirmed to Congress that it did sell ads to a Russian government-affiliated internet operation, another step in the increased scrutiny Facebook has faced in the past year about its ability to be used to distort facts and as a tool for information warfare.
According to the Washington Post, Facebook told Congress that it sold $100,000 worth of ads to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization linked to the Kremlin but not a part of the Russian government. The IRA, as recounted in a 2015 New York Times article, is known for employing trolls to push pro-Kremlin talking points. Politico is reporting another $50,000 was found by Facebook from accounts that originated in Russia.
The proceeds of those ad sales are but a drop in Facebook’s revenue bucket, and similarly tiny in the context of an overall campaign-ad budget, but they refute Facebook’s initial dismissal of its own role in the spread of misinformation through ad targeting and algorithmic filtering “focused on pumping politically divisive issues such as gun rights and immigration fears, as well as gay rights and racial discrimination,” according to the Post.
Still unknown: who those ads targeted and where the knowledge of whom to target came from. The disclosures further muddy the waters of the looming investigation into collusion with foreign agents that plagues the Trump White House. Facebook says it has no method of determining any possible coordination. At the very least, there is no benefit for the company to do so voluntarily and again damage the integrity of its ad product.