Google says that a Kremlin-linked group spent $4,700 on advertising as part of a misinformation campaign during the 2016 US election. Russian groups also created 18 YouTube channels and uploaded 1,108 English-language videos — some of which were political, some of which weren’t — that racked up 309,000 views during the election cycle. Google describes the findings as “limited activity” and says that it’s working “to prevent all of it, because there is no amount of interference that is acceptable.”
The disclosure comes alongside announcements from Facebook and Twitter revealing the expansive reach that Russian propaganda had on their platforms as well. Facebook said Russian accounts reached 126 million people; Twitter said it had found more than 2,700 Russian-linked accounts. Russian groups’ use of Google first came to light earlier this month.
Google says that the $4,700 in advertising money came from the Internet Research Agency, which US intelligence has described as a group of “professional trolls” with close ties to Russian intelligence. The ads weren’t “narrowly targeted” to people based on factors such as their political beliefs or their location, Google says.
It’s not clear if the YouTube accounts came from the same source, but Google describes them as being “likely associated with this campaign.” Similar to the ads, Google says they weren’t targeted to specific users. “These channels’ videos were not targeted to the US or to any particular sector of the US population,” the company says. The identified channels have been suspended.
For now, Google hasn’t provided any real detail on what type of content these ads and videos were promoting. Facebook has previously said that Russian-linked ads promoted divisive content, but not strictly posts that directly promoted or attacked a candidate. Google says that it will continue to investigate and plans to launch “new initiatives to provide more transparency and enhance security,” though for now it isn’t clear if that means disclosing what these Russian-linked ads and videos were actually about.
The company also said that it had detected “less than $35” spent through AdSense and Ad Exchange. It also discovered that Gmail accounts associated with Russian propaganda efforts were used to open accounts on other websites; Google says that it’s informing those companies of what it found.
And in a bit of good news for Google, it found no evidence of Russian propaganda on Google+.
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