Study details 'suspicious' Facebook ads in 2016 cycle

Study details 'suspicious' Facebook ads in 2016 cycle
© Getty Images

A new study detailing foreign influence on Facebook ahead of the 2016 election found that one-sixth of 122 “suspicious” advertisers who purchased issue and political ads on the platform were Russian trolls.

The 122 were culled from a group of 228 advertisers analyzed in the study by University of Wisconsin Professor Young Mie Kim, who works with the Campaign Legal Center (CLC).

ADVERTISEMENT

Suspicious pages included Facebook pages with little to no information about who is behind them, pages that have been taken down and ones that have had little activity since Election Day 2016.

The 20 pages confirmed to be created by the Russian troll group, the Internet Research Association, were verified by Kim with information about the group's pages publicly released by the House Intelligence Committee.

These pages appeared to target swing states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on hot-button issues such as abortion, LGBT rights, gun control, immigration, terrorism, race and scandals involving candidates.

Kim also found that groups which never filed a report with the Federal Election Commission placed four times as many ads as groups that filed.

She and the CLC argue that the study shows the need for regulation like the Honest Ads Act, a bill that would apply the same political ad transparency rules for radio, print and TV to online ads.

“Secretive groups were able to run tens of thousands of digital political ads without detection because of massive loopholes in our campaign finance laws,” Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform program at CLC, said in a statement emailed to The Hill.

“This study demonstrates the importance of Congress addressing campaign finance law’s internet blind spot. The protection of American elections from foreign interference cannot be left to voluntary measures by tech companies,” he said.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter have attempted to self-regulate political ads on their platforms, introducing new transparency measures.

Facebook and Twitter this month though announced their support for the Honest Ads Act. The bill has yet to gain traction in Congress.

It has support from Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRand Paul ‘concerned’ about Kavanaugh Senate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Ariz.), but other Republicans have raised concerns with new regulations.