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Facebook Displayed Ads from Pro-Kremlin Russian Company During US Election

The Facebook logo is displayed on their website in an illustration

Facebook indicated that almost 500 fake accounts purchased roughly 3,000 political ads between June 2015 and May 2017, according to Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer. The ads spread polarizing views on topics including immigration, race and gay rights, rather than backing a particular political candidate, it said.

Facebook's concession that it sold $100,000 in ads to Russian-linked accounts past year may be "just the tip of the iceberg" of how social networks were used to interfere in the election, warned the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He said these are serious claims and that the company had been reviewing a range of activity on the platform to help understand what happened. The ads, which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, were linked to some 470 fake accounts and pages the company said it had shut down.

While, according to Stamos, these pages were considered to be "likely operated" out of Russian Federation, his report did not cite any concrete ties to Moscow.

The revelation, first reported by the Washington Post, comes amid ongoing investigations into Russia's interference in the US election, including the use of social media to spread fake news and propaganda.

"We have shared our findings with USA authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary", Stamos writes.

The handover of information comes after Facebook revealed earlier on Wednesday that thousands of ads posted on the site over the past two years were linked to fake Facebook accounts based out of Russian Federation. This included ads bought from accounts with US IP addresses but with the language set to Russian.

About 3,000 ads were placed by 470 fake profiles or inauthentic "Pages", which are Facebook profiles for groups. This additional pool of ads totaled $50,000 spent on roughly 2,200 ads.

Facebook briefed members of both the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees on Wednesday about the suspected Russian Federation advertising, according to a congressional source familiar with the matter.

"There's still a lot questions we have in terms of the potential targeting of those ads, as well as whether there was any coordination with the campaign in the Russians' use of social media", he added, referring to inquiries into whether anyone close to Trump colluded with Russia.

"We also looked for ads that might have originated in Russian Federation - even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort".

Widely criticized for helping spread bogus news during the election, Facebook has since conceded its network was exploited by governments and other interests intent on manipulating public opinion, including during the presidential elections in the US and France.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees are investigating whether the Kremlin meddled in the election and if that meddling had any connection to Trump's campaign.

Any ad purchases as described by this WP report would violate FEC rules prohibiting foreign nationals and governments from either spending money or making contributions that influence USA elections on the federal, state, or local level.