I read a Moscow Times story, Russia Investigation Update: More Nasty Name-Calling, Ads and Emails, that was giving a fairly good explanation of the Facebook and Google ad situation, and then I reached these two tiny paragraphs.
Google discovered Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads aimed to spread disinformation during the 2016 U.S. election across Google search, YouTube, Gmail, and other Google properties.
The finding was significant because the ads were not purchased by the Internet Research Agency, known as the “Kremlin troll farm” but by what may be “legitimate accounts.”
This is a wee bit surprising, because The Moscow Times is usually more subtle in their declarations which depart from the West’s perspective.
I hadn’t read of “legitimate accounts”, so I went to investigate.
CNBC, a fairly mainstream source, had this story: Google Finds Accounts Connected to Russia Bought Election Ads, and contained these words.
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, but it is not clear whether any of these were state-sponsored ads and may have been legitimate ad spending by Russian citizens, the person said.
The article questions that they were absolutely Russian state-sponsored ads and suggests it may have been a private citizen. *cough* C’mon, it’s not time for my annual exam yet. But, it’s true, unless it can be proven, it might not be true. Except in Russia, the situation is normally bizarre and the Russian government is usually evil.
Let’s move on to Sputnik News, which, in Google This! WaPost Gets Its Anti-Russian Panties in a Bunch… Again, it takes the next step.
It all sounds pretty alarming — which is of course the intention — but then you get to around one-third in to the article. “The people familiar with Google’s investigation [THEM AGAIN!] said that the company is looking at a set of ads that cost less than US$100,000 and that it is still sorting out whether all of the ads came from trolls or whether some originated from legitimate Russian accounts.”
So in other words, we don’t know that these ads came from “trolls” or “Russian agents” at all. They could all have come from “legitimate” accounts. This seems to contradict the bold claim at the beginning that, “The Silicon Valley giant has found that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents.”
This article takes another incremental step away from saying Russian Information Warfare trolls or operatives purchased these ads, which leads to Moscow Time’s conclusion: “the ads were not purchased by the Internet Research Agency, known as the “Kremlin troll farm” but by what may be “legitimate accounts.””
Then I ask ‘Why would a Russian citizen take out a political ad for an American politician?’
Again, this is Russia and I don’t believe in coincidences.
Bottom line, it’s going to come down to “Prove it”, uttered by a Russian. Unless we start to get much better at attribution, we’re going to be stuck on making accusations without proof.