Three Russian-Bought Immigration Ads Have Been Uncovered by Facebook's Brexit Investigation

By Tom Pritchard on at

About a month ago Facebook seemingly admitted that Russia tried to meddle with last year's Brexit vote, later promising to assist in any government investigations into the mater. Obviously it's doing its own internal investigation, which uncovered three ads paid for by someone in Russia.

Before anyone gets too shocked, it's important to note that there were only three ads. Three adverts that only ran for four days, cost less than £1 to publish, and only got 200 views. With such a small reach it's unlikely these ads had any impact on the referendum result on their own.

They were, however, paid for by the same 470 Russia-based accounts that spent over $100,000 on 3,000 US-targeted ads that ran between June 2016 and May 2017.

According to Facebook these ads were targeted at UK and US audiences, and were related to the topic of immigration rather than the Brexit vote itself. TechCrunch notes that this is similar to Russian-bought ads that appeared around the US election. Ads that focused on divisive issues that are assumed to be an attempt to drive people apart.

The accounts were uncovered as being linked to the Internet Research Agency, a so-called Russian 'troll farm' allegedly working on behalf of the Russian government. So far Facebook has only looked for Brexit posts from identified Internet Research Agency accounts, so it's not impossible that there are more out there. That said, there were also plenty of pro-Brexit ads from British sponsors all over the place in the run up to the referendum.

The Electoral Commission reached out to Facebook, Twitter, and Google regarding Russian-paid ads and their relation to Brexit. While the collaborations are said to be in the early stages, all three companies have promised to cooperate in anyway they can.

Google claims that there is no evidence of Russian disinformation operations, and Facebook has maintained there there isn't any evidence of “significant coordination of ad buys or political misinformation targeting the Brexit vote”. Twitter doesn't seem to have made its findings publicly available, but given that investigations by multiple news and academic organisations did find evidence of anti-EU sentiment from Russian-based accounts (not paid ads) it'll be interesting to see what it finds. [TechCrunch]

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