Google Identifies Russia-backed Ads on YouTube, Gmail

The ads were published in Google's YouTube, Gmail and Google Search services in an effort to influence potential voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

YouTube Advertising Tools

Facebook and Google rake in more advertising revenue than the rest of the media world combined. Thus it follows that if one of them--Facebook--was found to have published fake political ads placed by Russian operatives in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, then one could be reasonably sure that the same thing happened in Google's channels.

It did.

Google has acknowledged that Russian-connected agents bought tens of thousands of dollars' worth of politically motivated ads to run on its platforms around the U.S. presidential election, according to sources cited Oct. 9 by the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

The ads were published in Google's YouTube, Gmail and Google Search services in an effort to influence potential voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a person briefed on the company's probe told Reuters Oct. 9.

This is the first indication that Russia's alleged attempts to influence the 2016 vote by spreading disinformation reached Google, by far world's largest advertising business.

Key Data Points

Reuters cited the following data points in covering the story:

  • Google has uncovered less than $100,000 in ad spending potentially linked to Russian actors, the source said.
  • The ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated entity that bought ads on Facebook.
  • Twitter, Facebook and Google have been asked to testify on Russian election interference before the House and Senate intelligence committees.

"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," a Google spokeswoman told the news service.

Previously, Twitter and Facebook disclosed that suspected Russian operatives, working for a content farm known as the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia, used their platforms to purchase ads and post content that was politically divisive in a bid to influence Americans before and after the November 2016 presidential election.

Phony Social Media Accounts

The Internet Research Agency employ hundreds of so-called "trolls" who post pro-Kremlin content, much of it fake or discredited, under the guise of phony social media accounts that posed as American or European, according to lawmakers and researchers.

Facebook announced in September that it had found $100,000 in spending by the Internet Research Agency. Under pressure from Congress, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social network has pledged to be more transparent about how its ads are purchased and targeted.

The revelation is likely to cause further scrutiny of the role that Silicon Valley technology giants may have unwittingly played during last year's election. All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian infiltrated social networks with disinformation, and most of them believe Moscow's goal was to help elect Donald Trump.

On Oct. 8, the Daily Beast reported that the Kremlin recruited at least two black video bloggers to post clips on YouTube trashing Hillary Clinton during the campaign. They posed as Black Lives Matter sympathizers.

It's All About Planting Discord

Reuters reported that a study published Oct. 9 by researchers with the Oxford Internet Institute, which is affiliated with the British university, found more falsehoods published by Russians. The study found that current U.S. military personnel and veterans were targeted by disinformation campaigns on Twitter and Facebook during the past year by a group of pro-Kremlin, Russian-oriented sites, along with conspiracy theorists and European right-wing ideologues.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said Russia intended to sow discord in the United States, spread propaganda and sway the election. Some Democrats plan to introduce legislation to require internet companies to disclose more information about political ad purchases on their platforms.

"If Vladimir Putin is using Facebook or Google or Twitter to, in effect, destroy our democracy, the American people should know about it," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said Oct. 9 on MSNBC.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...