Russian political ads also ran on Instagram, YouTube, Gmail

Dive Brief:

  • Facebook released more details about ads bought by Russian operatives last year with the intent of influencing the U.S. presidential election, per a report from Recode. Along with around 3,000 ads that ran on Facebook, 150 ads also appeared on Instagram .
  • The total ad buy was around $100,000 and the ads were possibly viewed by up to 10 million people. The news about the Instagram ads was released last Friday in a blog post from Facebook’s VP of policy and communications Elliot Schrage and was the first notification that Russian-bought ads ran on more than Facebook’s signature platform.
  • A new exclusive report on Monday, Oct. 9, from The Washington Post revealed that Google — which previously insisted Russia has little influence on its platform — has discovered that Russian operatives bought ads on YouTube, Gmail, Google search and other products to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. 

Dive Insight:

The extent of the involvement by Russian operatives in buying ads intended to influence last year’s election continues to unfold. 

Facebook’s blog post outlined what the company shared with Congress as part of its investigation into Russian interference in U.S. elections. Those details include: 44% of ad impressions happened before the election and 56% after; 25% were never viewed due to targeting choices in the ad auction; for half of the ads, less than $3 was spent, and for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent; and around 1% of the ads used specific Custom Audiences targeting to reach people who had visited the advertiser’s website as well as lookalike segments.

For Facebook and now Google, the ongoing controversy and multiple investigations by lawmakers into the problem further undermines their standing at a time when there are growing questions by advertisers around a lack of transparency in the digital media supply chain. 

Facebook’s role in disseminating fake news and serving ads designed to usurp the U.S.’s democratic process has caused the social media giant a public relations issue. Initially, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly denied the platform had any role in spreading false information. As more details were revealed, Zuckerberg had to walk back those statements, and the new revelations about ads also appearing on Instagram only underscores how poorly Facebook has managed this brand reputation problem and raises the question of how well it understands — or doesn’t — what is happening in its own advertising operations. 

Given that Google had previously said Russian influence was minimal on its platform, the new revelations raise a similar question: Was the company intentionally obscuring the facts in the hope that it didn’t caught or, perhaps just as alarmingly, did it simply not understand what has happening? 

In late September, Zuckerberg used his Facebook Live feature to outline steps the company is taking to make its platform less vulnerable to political issues like selling ads to foreign operatives looking to influence U.S. elections. It will be interesting to watch how Google reacts now that it has been implicated as well.