Google says Russian troll farm was client, but spent less than $5,000 on ads during campaign

As Google, Facebook and Twitter prepare for a two-day Congressional grilling over alleged Russian exploitation of their platforms to influence the last presidential election, Google is asserting that there was relatively little abuse of its online offerings.

Representatives from the three Silicon Valley tech firms are slated to go before a Senate judiciary subcommittee and the Senate and House intelligence committees this week, as various branches of government probe the extent to which Russia tried to influence the presidential election — in favor of now-President Donald Trump, intelligence agencies have said.

In anticipation of the questioning, the companies have been providing data from their own investigations into the alleged Russian exploitation. Russia denies attempting to influence the outcome of the election.

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Facebook will tell lawmakers that some 126 million Americans — more than half the U.S. voting population — may have been exposed via its platform to material from a Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, that is reportedly linked to the Kremlin, CNN reported Oct. 30.

Twitter will tell the government that accounts connected to Russia spewed out about 1.4 million automated tweets related to the election, which may been seen up to 288 million times, according to Business Insider.

But Google appears poised to claim its products and services played a much smaller role in any Russian influence campaign.

In documents issued Oct. 30, the Mountain View search giant said it had reviewed political ads on Google “for indications of ads purchased by state-affiliated actors.”

The Russian troll farm, Internet Research Agency, was a customer, using two accounts to buy $4,700 worth of ads during the 2016 election cycle. Although Google had provided advertisers with the option of targeting ads at left-wingers or right-wingers, the Russian trolls did not use that tactic, Google said.

All three of the Bay Area tech giants have been criticized over the use of their platforms by RT, an official Russian news organization formerly known as Russia Today and widely seen as a propaganda arm for President Vladimir Putin. A recent report concluded that RT has racked up 2.1 billion views and 2.2 million subscribers on its main English channel on Google’s YouTube.

Google said it found 18 YouTube channels that appeared to be associated with a Russia-linked campaign and had made political videos in English publicly available. About 1,100 videos were uploaded from the channels, receiving a total of 309,000 U.S. views between June 2015 and November 2016. About 3 percent of the videos had more than 5,000 views, Google said. The videos weren’t targeted at the U.S. or at any sector of the U.S. population, according to Google, which said it had suspended the channels it had identified.

The company added that it had found no evidence that RT had manipulated the YouTube platform or violated YouTube policy, and said RT, like all other state-sponsored media outlets, was subject to its standard rules.

Google said that next year it would release a “transparency report” covering election ads. The report “will share ​data ​about ​who ​is ​buying ​election-related ​ads ​on ​our ​platforms ​and ​how ​much ​money ​is being ​spent,” the company said.

“We’ll ​also ​introduce ​a ​publicly ​accessible ​database ​of ​election ​ads ​purchased on ​AdWords ​and ​YouTube, with ​information ​about ​who ​bought ​each ​ad. ​

“That ​means ​people ​will not ​only ​be ​able ​to ​learn ​more ​about ​who’s ​buying ​election-related ​ads ​on ​our ​platforms, ​they’ll ​be able ​to ​see ​the ​ads  themselves, ​regardless ​of ​to ​whom ​they ​were ​shown.”

Google will also name advertisers running election-related campaigns on Search, YouTube and the Google Display Network, it said.

 

Photo: A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (AP Photo/Google, Connie Zhou, File)

 

 

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