Russians said to have bought $100,000 of election ads on Google
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Russians said to have bought $100,000 of election ads on Google

Company's investigation reportedly reveals operatives purchased spots on YouTube, Gmail ahead of Trump presidential victory

This photo taken on December 28, 2016 in Vertou, western France, shows logos of US multinational technology company Google.  (AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE)
This photo taken on December 28, 2016 in Vertou, western France, shows logos of US multinational technology company Google. (AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE)

Russian operatives reportedly bought ads worth $100,000 across Google’s platforms in an attempt to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election.

The ads were purchased on many of Google’s products, including YouTube, which is the world’s largest video sharing site, and Gmail, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

According to the sources who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity, the ads were not purchased by the same group that bought ads on Facebook, implying that the Russian effort to influence the US election was broader than previously thought.

The report said the company discovered the Russian presence by siphoning data from Twitter.

In a statement, Google said it has a “set of strict ads policies including limits on political ad targeting and prohibitions on targeting based on race and religion.”

“We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries,” the statement continued.

The amount of money spent on Google ads matches the sum reportedly spent by Russian operatives on Facebook in the lead-up to the election.

That company turned 3,000 ads over to three congressional committees as part of their investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 vote. Facebook’s Elliot Schrage said the ads appeared to focus on divisive social and political messages, including LGBT issues, immigration and gun rights. In many cases, the ads encouraged people to follow pages on those issues.

Facebook said last month that the ads appeared to have come from accounts associated with a Russian entity called the Internet Research Agency. The company said it found 450 accounts and about $100,000 was spent on the ads.

Schrage, Facebook vice president for policy and communications, said in the blog post that the ads included “political messages across the ideological spectrum.” He said for 99 percent of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.

The social media giant Twitter has shut down accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency, which the Post described as “a Russian-government affiliated troll farm,” the same group that had purchased the Facebook ads. Twitter also admitted that the Kremlin-linked news site RT spent $274,100 on its platform in 2016.

Both Facebook and Twitter have agreed to appear for a public hearing before one of the Senate committees probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election on November 1. Google has yet to confirm whether it will also give evidence at the hearing.

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