On Wednesday, Facebook revealed a startling discovery: That they had unknowingly sold over $100,000 in political ads to just under 500 accounts that turned out to be fake — and based in Russia. That revelation was in stark contrast to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments last November at the Techonomy conference immediately following the election:
Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook — of which it’s a small amount of content — influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea…I do think there is a profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could’ve voted the way they did is fake news.”
Clearly, Zuck was not yet aware of the plethora of inauthentic accounts on the site, or the kind of reach their posts would have in Facebook groups, which fans of Donald Trump flock to with abandon. In researching for this article, I went to just one public group (whose posts are visible without joining the group), called “Basket of Deplorables.”
Scrolling through just the most recent posts — I think perhaps I scrolled my mouse five times — I encountered 11 “fake news” articles. That is to say, articles whose subjects or conclusions were easily proven verifiably false. This was in addition to innumerable pro-Trump memes, as well as simple derogatory posts about liberals including Chelsea Clinton, George Soros, and Maxine Waters. Added to those were posts denigrating all Californians, Muslims, immigrants, a pastor, and protesters who block traffic.
As recently as July, a Facebook spokesman told CNN that the company had “seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election.” That’s part of what makes this revelation so groundbreaking. The other part is that the blog post by Facebook’s chief security officer where this information came to light also indicated that it had been going on from June of 2015 until May of this year.
So, what to do with all of this information that the social media giant finally unearthed? Well, the obvious: Turn it over to Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel team. According to a Wednesday report from Reuters, in addition to briefing intelligence committees from both chambers of Congress, Facebook delivered “copies of advertisements as well as data about the buyers” directly to Mueller, the head investigator into Russian influence on the 2016 election.
I suppose he can probably think of some use for that information, but I doubt he’ll be buying any Facebook ads about it.
Featured image via Chris Jackson/Getty Images