Tech’s Russia Nightmare Spreads to Google – Vanity Fair
So far, Mark Zuckerberg has taken most of the heat for eerily specific ads paid for by Russian agents that appeared on his platform. But it’s increasingly clear that Facebook isn’t the only major tech company used to manipulate voters in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Twitter announced last month that it had banned about 200 Russia-linked accounts, and now Google has discovered that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars to run ads intended to influence the election’s outcome on its platform.
According to The Washington Post, Russian agents spread disinformation using a multi-pronged approach: their ads appeared on Google Search, but also on Gmail, YouTube, and in DoubleClick ads. The Post reports that the ads aren’t from the same Kremlin-linked troll farm that bought ads on Facebook, a possible sign that Russian efforts were broader than previously thought. It’s still unclear how many ads were purchased, or how many users clicked on them; people with knowledge of the investigation told the Post that Google is examining a set of ads that cost less than $100,000, and Recode reported that the amount Russian agents spent on search and display Google ads could be about $4,700.
Google is still working on its investigation, having first discovered the presence of Russian ads on its platform by cross-referencing data Twitter gathered about Russia-linked accounts on its platform. “We have a set of strict ads policies including limits on political ad targeting and prohibitions on targeting based on race and religion,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
In addition to paid-for ads, memes, and hashtags, the Daily Beast reported Monday that Russians recruited fake “Black Lives Matter” activists to bash Hillary Clinton on YouTube. In a series of videos, two black vloggers, who go by the names Williams and Kalvin Johnson, called Clinton a “racist bitch,” praised WikiLeaks’s founder Julian Assange, and urged viewers to vote for Trump—their efforts reached audiences not only on YouTube, but on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, although the videos were removed from Facebook in August after they were found to be from a Russia-linked account. (Google spokeswoman Andrea Faville said in a statement that “all videos uploaded to YouTube must comply with our Community Guidelines, and we routinely remove videos flagged by our community that violate those policies.”)
Both Facebook and Twitter are expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee November 1 regarding Russian interference on their platforms, but Google hasn’t said whether it will join them.