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The Russian connectionMicrosoft investigating Russian government operatives’ purchase of campaign ads

Published 10 October 2017

Microsoft is reviewing its accounts to determine whether Russian government operatives and trolls aligned with the Russian government purchased ads on Bing or other company products in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential race. The company’s decision to conduct an internal investigation comes as Microsoft’s tech industry peers — Facebook, Google, and Twitter — are dealing with probes by the U.S. Congress into the extent to which Kremlin-backed agents spread disinformation on their platforms around Election Day.

Microsoft is reviewing its accounts to determine whether Russian government operatives and trolls aligned with the Russian government purchased ads on Bing or other company products in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Reuters, which first reported the news, notes that the company’s decision to conduct an internal investigation comes as Microsoft’s tech industry peers — Facebook, Google, and Twitter — are dealing with probes by the U.S. Congress into the extent to which Kremlin-backed agents spread disinformation on their platforms around Election Day.

“We take reports of misuse of our platform seriously,” a Microsoft spokesman said late Monday. “We are therefore investigating and if inappropriate activity is found, we will take steps to minimize such misuse in the future.”

Sky News reports that other tech giants — including Oath, which now owns Yahoo— have not responded to questions about whether they have opened similar inquiries in recent weeks, or what they may have found.

Facebook said it has so far found that 470 Russian-linked profiles purchased about 3,000 advertisements – most of them using fake stories and false information — which aimed to stoke racial animosity, deepen religious strife, and exacerbate social tensions. The goal of the Russian government’s operatives in creating and disseminating these ads was to create a political climate more hospitable to Donald Trump ’s appeal to a sense of grievance by White voters and, more generally, make his appeal voters who felt that their concerns were not addressed by the educated, cosmopolitan coastal elites in both parties more persuasive.

Facebook representatives told congressional investigators last month 0that these Facebook profiles matched with some accounts that sought to sow discord — but did not purchase ads — on Twitter.

Google, in the meantime, said that Russian government agents have purchased ads on YouTube, Google Search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network (see “Russian agents bought ads on Google platforms, targeting voters in crucial swing states,” HSNW, 9 October 2017).

Facebook, Google, and Twitter will testify at two hearings to be held by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which are investigating efforts by the Kremlin to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.