Facebook Delivering Thousands of Russia-Linked Ads to Congressional Russia Investigations

On Monday, Facebook will turn over 3,000 ads to Congress that the tech giant believes are connected to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election.

The ads are linked to 470 fake accounts that, according to an internal investigation by the company, the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency set up. The ads are being given to the House and Senate intelligence committees and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

In a blog post early last month, Facebook revealed that its investigation tracked at least $100,000 spent on ads from the accounts that spread divisive messages about LGBT rights, race, immigration and gun control.

RTX282OL Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company will cooperate with congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Albert Gea/Reuters

Facebook hasn’t released the names of the accounts, but some contained the words refugee and patriot. Last week, CNN found that one of the accounts, calling itself Blacktivist, masqueraded as African-American activists aligned with the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter.

“I just realized that the now-suspended Russian sponsored @blacktivists account was spreading lies about me to movement folks. That’s wild,” black activist DeRay Mckesson‏ wrote on Twitter Sunday.

Many of the Facebook accounts were also connected to similar Twitter accounts that amplified political discord, CNN reports. Facebook shared the findings of its investigation with Twitter, sources told the broadcaster, leading the social media company to match 22 accounts to the Facebook fakes and another 179 that linked back to those accounts.

Read more: What is Mueller looking for in the Facebook Russia ads?

Sources inside Facebook also told CNN that some ad buys by Russia may not have been discovered yet.

The findings bolster the conclusions of key American intelligence agencies in January that Russia mounted a massive misinformation campaign to interfere in the 2016 election. Each of the committees meeting with Facebook are investigating the Kremlin’s efforts.

Facebook says the ads ran in the U.S. between 2015 and 2017 and that the accounts are associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency, an organization reportedly funded by oligarch restaurateur Yevgeny Prigozhin—a man with a close relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

U.S. military intelligence describes the group as “a state-funded organization that blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin.” An investigation early this year revealed the organization has rebranded itself as the Federal News Agency.

The social media company is handing over the ads after the company’s staff showed members of the House and Senate intelligence committees copies during a briefing but did not let them keep the documents. Congress has also requested a full copy of the tech company’s internal report.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a Newsweek question about whether its full internal investigation report will also be released to Congress.

“It’s always a little problematic when you come before a committee and show them documents and then take them back,” said Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee on September 18. “My hope is they will be more cooperative going forward.”

Facebook has already shared copies of the ads with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is carrying out an independent investigation connected to the Department of Justice.

After the Congress request for copies of the ads, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on September 21 that the company would hand them over and make changes on its platform so political ads are more transparent.

The House and Senate intelligence committees have also called on Twitter and Google to testify publicly about Russian interference on their internet platforms.

Some members of Congress, including Warner, have called for the ads that appeared on Facebook to be made public, but it’s unclear whether they will be released with the final reports Congress will issue when the investigations are complete.

“We support Congress in deciding how to best use this information to inform the public,” Zuckerberg said, “and we expect the government to publish its findings when their investigation is complete.”

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