Google has revealed that a number of Russian agents have purchased online ads worth less than $100,000 that were served on a variety of its services including YouTube, Gmail and Search, according to a new report by Reuters. According to the report, which cites an industry source familiar with Google’s investigation on the matter, the broader goal of the alleged Russian-backed ads was to influence the outcome of the presidential elections in the United States last year by trying to sway US citizens’ choice through online propaganda, most of which were meant to spread false information.
It remains unclear, however, whether the Russian operatives responsible for the Google ads were the same people linked to Kremlin who reportedly purchased ads on Facebook with the same objective to interfere in the 2016 US elections result. The social networking giant has been believed to have served Russian-backed ads in the days prior to the US presidential elections last year. Late last month, the US Congress asked Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, to testify on the role of its ad-serving platform during the 2016 presidential elections as part of a wider probe on Kremlin’s alleged intervention with the US 2016 polls using several digital means. Facebook also recently agreed to submit information about 3,000 ad campaigns allegedly purchased by Russian operatives in late 2016 to US authorities. Earlier this month, the Menlo Park, California-based company responded to general questions about its role in serving Russian-financed ads last year, stating that a single group maliciously took advantage of Facebook’s ad targeting service to deliver propaganda content to the US voters. The malicious ads contained supposedly divisive content that touches humanitarian, social, and political issues.
While it is not clear as of this time whether Kremlin has a direct role in the purchase of Google ads by the unidentified Russian agents, it suggests a widespread propaganda effort on the part of Russia as a whole to disseminate fake news online in the lead-up to the US elections in 2016. More details about this incident are likely to follow shortly as officials from the Internet giants are set to answer congressional queries on November 1 during a public hearing.