Google says it is digging into its vaults for evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, after Virginia Sen. Mark Warner slammed Twitter for a response to a congressional probe he called inadequate.
Google, through an internal investigation, for the first time has uncovered evidence that Russian operatives, who spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on YouTube, Gmail and Google search, exploited the company’s platforms in an attempt to interfere in the 2016 election.
According to a Washington Post report on Monday, the ads are the first evidence Google has found that show Russia was trying to use the company’s advertising platform to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
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, people familiar with those ads said. 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 U.S. users that log onto the service each month.
At the same time, those ads do not appear to have originated from the same Kremlin-backed source that bought ads across Facebook, said sources familiar with the investigation, suggesting that a number of entities could share responsibility in the Russian effort to spread disinformation.
A Google spokesperson said on Monday that Google has a set of strict ads policies including limits on political ad targeting and prohibitions on targeting based on race and religion. And that they are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse Google systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries.
The presence of fake news stories on social media, and charges of Russian meddling, cast a shadow over the 2016 presidential election in the US. A year later, tech companies and government officials are still trying to figure out the full extent of the issues.
Google has for the most part avoided the level of scrutiny aimed at fellow Silicon Valley stalwart Facebook, which handed over 3,000 Russia-backed ads to Congress earlier this month. But Google’s own investigation got its spark from pressure by Congress to determine the extent to which Russian operatives used social media and bought ads across internet platforms.
Facebook’s role extends beyond ads to the sorts of hoax stories that showed up in people’s news feeds. Over the weekend, the its security chief defended the social media giant’s use of algorithms, describing the problem of fake news as larger and more complicated than many realize.
“I am seeing a ton of coverage of our recent issues driven by stereotypes of our employees and attacks against fantasy, strawman tech [companies],” Facebook’s Alex Stamos said in a Twitter thread. “Nobody of substance at the big companies thinks of algorithms as neutral.”