Facebook also showed Russia-linked ads on other websites

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
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    Fewer than 9,000 people saw Russian-linked ads purchased through Facebook’s Audience Network, which lets marketers deliver ads to other websites and apps, since the beginning of 2016. About 90 online publishers saw revenue from the Russia-affiliated ads that Facebook delivered. The revelation highlights how Russian actors used every part of Facebook’s ad business to influence public opinion.

Russia-linked operatives looking to sway US politics purchased Facebook ads that were also shown outside of the social network, Business Insider has learned.

But unlike the 126 million Americans estimated to have seen Russia-backed posts on Facebook between 2015 and 2017, the number of people who saw Facebook-delivered ads from Russia-linked actors on other sites was relatively small.

Since the beginning of 2016, roughly 9,000 people saw Russian-affiliated ads purchased through Facebook’s Audience Network tool, which lets marketers deliver ads to other websites and apps. The ads were affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, a so-called Russian troll farm that Facebook recently said was behind roughly 80,000 posts shared on its platform before and after the 2016 US election.

About 90 of the fewer than 1,000 online publishers that had Russia-backed ads delivered through Facebook’s Audience Network saw any revenue from the ads, according to a source familiar with the matter. The source added that Facebook notified affected publishers on Tuesday, minutes before the company’s top lawyer was scheduled to testify at a hearing on Capitol Hill about Russia’s election meddling through social networks.

A Facebook representative confirmed the previously unreported reach of Russia-backed activity on the company’s ad platform in a statement shared with Business Insider on Tuesday.

“Less than 9,000 people saw one of the ads linked to the Internet Research Agency through the Audience Network,” the representative said. “Most impacted publishers saw less than 10 impressions, and the revenue average delivered per publisher was less than $0.10.”

While 9,000 people is a small number compared with the 126 million who most likely saw the Russian posts on Facebook, the revelation highlights how Russian actors used every part of Facebook’s ad business to influence public opinion.

Facebook announced last week that advertisers running federal-election-related ads in the US would be required to verify their identity as well as run disclosures on each ad. The company also said it would allow people to see the ads a Facebook business page is running.