Microsoft joins the search for Russian backed Ads

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.   Drew Angerer  Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Drew Angerer Getty Images

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, told lawmakers behind closed doors that the company is working hard to ensure Americans "understand what the propaganda is that they may or may not be reading", said House Republican Rep. Mike Conaway, who is leading the House intelligence committee probe.

The ads mainly appeared alongside Google's search results or on websites outside of its own network of sites, the person said. Facebook recently provided three congressional committees with more than 3,000 ads they had traced to a Russian internet agency. The source revealed that Google uncovered less than $100,000 in ad spending potentially linked to Russian operatives.

According to the Washington Post, the tech giant found that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on YouTube, Gmail, the Google search engine and other products.

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Later on Monday, Microsoft said it was investigating whether it too had been targeted. New campaigns with ad sets contain targeting options that we feel warrant additional review (such as those associated with topics such as politics, religion, ethnicity and social issues), we will route them for manual review prior to being approved. A study by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is affiliated with the British Oxford University, found that current and former USA military personal were especially targeted by the Russian disinformation campaigns.

Several independent researchers also have found that the Russian disinformation flowed across platforms and onto the wider Web, taking advantage of technology that allows advertisers to identify potential voters and follow and re-target ads to them based on their political inclinations. The ads - viewed by 10 million U.S. users - in many instances sought to stir political unrest, often by riling viewers on divisive issues related to race, religion, immigration and gun control. But last week, the company was reported to be looking into the matter. But, a Columbia social media researcher, reported soon after that free Facebook content affiliated with just six of those 470 pages and accounts likely reached the news feeds of users hundreds of millions of times. Now Congress is planning to release the advertisements to the American public, according to CNBC - but not before a November 1st hearing that will include Facebook, Twitter and Google. At the end of September, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) penned a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking that the company "ensure that discriminatory and tactically divisive ad-targeting is aggressively prevented".

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