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The Russian connectionRussian agents bought ads on Google platforms, targeting voters in crucial swing states

Published 9 October 2017

Google says Russian agents have purchased ads on YouTube, Google Search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network. Some of the ads touted Donald Trump, while other ads aimed to help Trump indirectly: They promoted the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and the Green party candidate Jill Stein in order to weaken Hillary Clinton among left-leaning voters. The purpose of other ads was to sow discord, deepen social divisions, and intensify racial animosity: These ads talked about the threat to America posed by immigrants, African American activists, and members of the LGBT community, aiming to intensify backlash against these groups, and the politicians who spoke on their behalf, among White and more traditional voters. Many of the ads targeted voters in crucial swing states.

Russian interference through advertising acknoledged by Google // Source: yahoo.com

Google says it has found evidence that Russian agents have purchased ads on YouTube, Google Search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network.

The Washington Post reports that the Russian government agents paid a total of about $100,000 for the ads. Some of the ads touted Donald Trump. Other ads aimed to help Trump indirectly: They promoted the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and the Green party candidate Jill Stein, in order to weaken Hillary Clinton among left-leaning voters. The purpose of other ads was to sow discord, deepen divisions, and intensify racial animosity: These ads talked about the threat to America posed by immigrants, African American activists, and members of the LGBT community. The aim of these ads was to intensify backlash against these groups, and the politicians who spoke on their behalf, among White and more traditional voters.

The Post notes that Google previously claimed that Russian election meddling was not a Google problem, saying that the company is “always monitoring for abuse or violations of our policies and we’ve seen no evidence this type of ad campaign was run on our platforms.”

There is another important aspect to Google’s discovery: The ads on Google do not appear to have been purchased by the same Kremlin-run troll farm which bought ads on Facebook, meaning that the Russian government’s effort to disseminate disinformation online may be a much broader, and much more intractable, problem than social media companies have discovered so far.

Google may now face a similar criticism to that which greeted Facebook’s initial indifference to the possibility of the Russian government using Facebook to help elect Trump. Mark Zuckerberg apologized for his social network’s part in the Russian government’s disinformation that may have affected the presidential election results. “Calling [the idea of disinformation on Facebook] crazy was dismissive and I regret it,” he said late last month.

Endgadget notes that critics say that Zuckerberg’s mea culpa did not go nearly far enough. More information now points to how Russia, cleverly and effectively, sought to exploit U.S. social divisions, targeting voters in crucial swing states. Critics also say that Facebook continues to be complicit in the Russian government’s disinformation campaign by refusing to reveal the Russian ads to the public.

Twitter has shut down 201 accounts associated with Internet Research Agency, a firm which is a front for Russian intelligence, and which spent more than $274,000 on ads. Endgadget reports that Google discovered potential Russian ads by linking Russian Twitter accounts to those used to purchase ads on Google’s own services, reportedly without Twitter’s permission.

Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University an expert on the manipulation of social media, notes that the investigations by Facebook, Twitter, and Google are in their infancy, and that the number of accounts and dollar figures are not yet known. His say that the election influence of Russian groups on Twitter, Facebook. Google and other networks has actually been massively underreported. Albright told the Post that regular posts — published on Facebook pages controlled by Russian agents — and not just paid ads were seen hundreds of millions of times, much more often than reported by Facebook.