Facebook admitted to congressional investigators on Wednesday that it sold $100,000 worth of ads to a nebulous Russian company with a history of pro-Kremlin propaganda, the Washington Post first reported.
The ads, which started running in the summer of 2015 and continued throughout the election, pushed divisive issues like gun rights, immigration fears, and racial strife, according to Facebook. A small number of the ads named candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton directly.
The revelation came as part of an ongoing congressional probe into Russia’s efforts to subvert the presidential election led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Facebook confirmed the report in a statement on Wednesday. It said the operation encompassed nearly 500 coordinated fraudulent accounts that it linked with roughly 3,000 ads.
“Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” a spokesperson said. “We have shared our findings with U.S. authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary.”
A Facebook official told the Post that many of the accounts in question traced back to a “troll farm” in St. Petersburg called the Internet Research Agency. The accounts have since been shut down.
American intelligence reports released earlier this year detailed how the Russian government used paid social media trolls and fake news to advance its interests during the election.
Facebook also released its own research in April detailing the various ways in which shady political groups tried to exploit its platform.
The company has been under fire for months for the role it played in proliferating political hoaxes and misinformation in the months leading up to the election. It’s responded with a series of moves meant to better vet news being shared on its site, crack down on fraudulent accounts through which fake news is spread, and otherwise shut out bad actors.
Most recently, Facebook started blocking pages with a history of spreading scams from buying ads to promote their posts.
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