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Russia-Linked Facebook Ads Reportedly Aimed for Swing States

October 4, 2017, 9:18 AM UTC

Some of the Russian-linked Facebook “fake news” that tried to exploit wedge issues during last year’s U.S. election was specifically targeting swing states, according to a new report.

Four unnamed sources “with direct knowledge of the situation” told CNN that certain ads were designed to reach potential voters in Michigan and Wisconsin, which ended up providing narrow wins for Donald Trump over rival Hillary Clinton. This is the first indication of which parts of the U.S. the ads were targeting.

The ads reportedly tried to promote division, such as by promoting anti-Muslim messages that would have been in line with the tone of Trump’s campaign.

Facebook says the ads cost their posters $100,000, and were seen by 10 million people. When paying to promote content on Facebook, it is easy—and indeed more cost-efficient—to direct it at a specific group of people, based on geography and political leaning, among other factors.

With increasing focus on the role of social media in the 2016 election, Facebook has turned over to Congress information on thousands of ads that it says were probably bought by Russians ahead of the poll. The data includes the ads themselves, as well as their targeting information and costs.

The social network also reportedly provided evidence to U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting an extensive investigation into potential meddling by outside forces.

According to CNN’s sources, many of the Facebook ads thought to emanate from Russia did not target swing states. It is also not yet clear when in 2016 those targeting Wisconsin and Michigan made their appearance.

On the weekend, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur to apologize for the platform’s divisive elements. “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better,” he said in a post on the service.