Google Finds Accounts Connected to Russia Bought Election Ads

click to enlarge Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google. - JIM WILSON/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google.

© 2017 New York Times News Service

SAN FRANCISCO — Google has found evidence that Russian agents bought ads on its wide-ranging networks in an effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign.

The findings from an internal inquiry draw Google further into the growing investigation of how social networks and technology services were manipulated by the Russian government to spread misinformation and sow division during the 2016 election.

Using accounts believed to be connected to the Russian government, the agents purchased $4,700 worth of search ads and more traditional display ads, according to a person familiar with the company’s ongoing inquiry who was not allowed to speak about it publicly. Google found the accounts through its own research and information provided by other technology companies.

Google found a separate $53,000 worth of ads with political material that were purchased from Russian internet addresses, building addresses or with Russian currency. It is not clear whether any of those were connected to the Russian government, and they may have been legitimately purchased by Russian citizens, the person said.

The messages of those ads spanned the political spectrum. One account spent $7,000 on ads to promote a documentary called “You’ve Been Trumped,” a film about Donald J. Trump’s efforts to build a golf course in Scotland along an environmentally sensitive coastline. Another spent $36,000 on ads questioning whether President Barack Obama needed to resign. Yet another bought ads to promote political merchandise for Obama.

There is a chance that Google may find other ads from Russian-linked accounts, the person familiar with the investigation said.

Google has been called to testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Nov. 1.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, said it should not be surprising that Russians were using Google as well as Facebook and Twitter.

“It will take more time and length and breadth to know what Russia did on social media,” Schiff said. “But the themes are consistent across platforms: the desire to help Donald Trump, to hurt Hillary Clinton and the desire to set Americans against each other.”

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