Russians paid for ads on YouTube 'to influence US vote'
Google for the first time has uncovered evidence that Russian operatives exploited the company's platforms in an attempt to interfere in the 2016 US election, according to people familiar with the company's investigation.
The Silicon Valley giant has found that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents who aimed to spread disinformation across Google's many products, which include YouTube, as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company's DoubleClick ad network, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that have not been made public. Google runs the world's largest online advertising business, and YouTube is the world's largest online video site.
The discovery by Google is also significant because the ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated troll farm that bought ads on Facebook - a sign the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may be a broader problem than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far.
Google previously downplayed the problem of Russian meddling on its platforms. Last month, spokeswoman Andrea Faville told the 'Washington Post' 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".
Nevertheless, Google has launched an investigation, as Congress pressed technology companies to determine how Russian operatives used social media, online advertising, and other digital tools to influence the 2016 presidential contest and foment discord in the US.
Google declined to comment. The people familiar with its investigation said the company is looking at a set of ads that cost less than $100,000 (€85,000) and that it is still sorting out whether all of the ads came from trolls or whether some originated from legitimate Russian accounts.
To date, Google has mostly avoided the scrutiny that has fallen on its rival Facebook. The social network recently shared about 3,000 Russian-bought ads with congressional investigators that were purchased by operatives associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-government affiliated troll farm, the company has said.
Some of the ads, which cost a total of about $100,000, touted Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and the Green party candidate Jill Stein during the campaign.
Other ads appear to have been aimed at fostering division in the United States by promoting anti-immigrant sentiment and racial animosity. Facebook has said those ads reached just 10 million of the 210 million US users that log onto the service each month.
At least one outside researcher has said the influence of Russian disinformation on Facebook is much greater than the company has so far acknowledged and encompasses paid ads as well as posts published on Facebook pages controlled by Russian agents. The posts were shared hundreds of millions of times, said Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.