WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Google found out that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads to spread disinformation across Google’s platforms.
- This is the latest evidence that the Russians tried to influence U.S. voters across several of Google’s services without the company’s knowledge.
- Google has now been added to the growing list of giant tech companies used for a disinformation operation that was approved by the Kremlin.
After Facebook and Twitter had disclosed some Russian accounts, Google is now saying that they were also exploited by Russian agents. U.S. investigators say that other tech companies were likely used, too.
Russian agents used YouTube and Gmail services, along with the Google’s signature search engine. Its DoubleClick ad network was also targeted. Google said in September that it had found no signs of Russian intervention, but investigators deemed otherwise.
Google has the largest online advertising business worldwide and YouTube is the world’s largest online video site.
Congressman Adam Schiff of California’s 28th District said, “We see the Russia presence on social media metastasizing. The extent of the Russian presence just continues to grow and grow, and I don’t think we yet have any kind of full understanding of just how expansive this presence may have been.” Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Schiff urged congressional investigators to question the tech companies “why it has taken them so long to discover the Russian use of their technology and how thorough their forensic effort has been, what the impediments are, and how much work remains to be done, and, of course, most importantly, how are they going to ferret this out in the future.”
According to several independent investigators, Russia took advantage of technology that allows advertisers to spot potential voters. In this way, they can be followed, and re-target ads to them based on their political preference. Their aim was to effect voting behavior, in some cases by concealing turnout.
Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University has observed the Russian campaign for several months. “It’s a system. It’s social-media marketing at an expert level. . . . This is very well executed,” he said.
“We have a set of strict ads policies including limits on political ad targeting and prohibitions on targeting based on race and religion. 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,” Google said in a statement.
Albright found links to Russian disinformation on Twitter, Facebook and Google as well as Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest.
Twitter declined to comment for this story while Pinterest did not answer requests for comment.
On Nov. 1, Facebook and Twitter’s executives will testify before congressional investigators. Google has not said whether it will accept a similar invitation from Congress.