Russian operatives bought Google ads and exploited the company’s many platforms in an attempt to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, according to a new report out of Washington.
Until now, most of the post-election scrutiny – and controversy – has centred on the role of Facebook in the election campaign which, of course, delivered a surprise result: a Donald Trump presidency.
But The Washington Post, quoting “people familiar with the company’s investigation” says Google has found that Russian agents spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads designed to “spread disinformation across Google’s many products”.
These include YouTube – the world’s largest online video site – as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network, The Post reported.
“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,” the Post report said.
This could be a sign that Russia’s attempt to spread disinformation online was much bigger than first thought. Google had previously said it had seen no evidence of Russian-bought election ads on its platforms.
Despite this public position, the Silicon Valley giant launched an investigation which, according to today’s Post report, has turned up evidence of more Russian meddling. Google refused to comment publicly on the report.
Until now, it was believed Russia only used Facebook to affect the election outcome and sow the seeds of discord in the run up to the poll almost 12 months ago.
Congressional investigators have been given about 3,000 Facebook ads that were bought by operatives associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-government affiliated troll farm, the company has said.
Facebook has said the ads reached about 10 million US users of the service, almost certainly enough to affect or even change the outcome of the election. The ads endorsed rivals of Hillary Clinton or attempted to foment discord.
Meanwhile, the US Sixty Minutes program last night profiled Brad Parscale, the man behind the Trump campaign’s enormously successful digital media strategy, who revealed Facebook did much more than accept ads.
Parscale told 60 Minutes that Facebook sent Republican-leaning staff to help the digital campaign by identifying “every, single secret button, click, technology [they] have”.
As The Washington Post noted: “The campaign poured money into Facebook, sending thousands of versions of tweaked ads to maximize response. Then it won the presidency by a margin narrow enough that Parscale (and Facebook) can justifiably take credit.”
Or, as the case may turn out to be: Blame.