Clint Watts, a former FBI agent who has studied Russian online influence campaigns, said Wednesday that Facebook’s report served as “validation” for findings by him and his researchers, who he said had spotted what they believed to be Russians posing as Americans to press political messages on Facebook as early as 2015.
He said his analysis showed that Facebook ads in 2015 were largely concerned with divisive social messages and were used to identify other Facebook users most susceptible to messaging. Those users were then targeted with election-oriented ads in 2016, he said.
“We had these suspicions, but we could never see who was purchasing the accounts,” said Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Facebook’s being brave. They probably could have buried this, and they did the right thing by coming forward.”