Between July 2018 and April 2022, Meta earned at least $30.3 million in advertising from networks it removed from its own platforms for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour (CIB), data compiled by WIRED reveals.
Margarita Franklin, Meta's head of security communications, confirmed to WIRED that the company does not refund advertising money if a network is removed. Franklin said some of the money came from advertisements that did not violate company rules but were published by the same PR or marketing organisations that were later banned for participating in CIB operations.
A report in The Wall Street Journal estimated that by the end of 2021, Meta had absorbed $17$ of money in the global advertising market and earned $114 billion from advertising. At least some of that money came from ads bought by networks that violated Meta's policies and which the company itself flagged and removed.
Meta has been issuing periodic reports for nearly four years, identifying CIB networks made up of fake accounts and pages that aim to deceive users and promote propaganda or misinformation in ways that look organic and change public opinion. These networks can be managed by governments, independent groups or public relations and marketing companies.
Last year, the company also began combating what it called "coordinated social harm" when networks use real accounts as part of their information operations.
Information operations can sometimes use real accounts or be conducted on behalf of a political action committee or LLC, making it difficult to classify their behaviour as "inauthentic".
Russia accounted for the largest number of advertisements on the networks that Meta identified as CIB and subsequently removed. The United States, Ukraine and Mexico were the most frequently selected, although almost all campaigns targeting Mexico involved domestic actors.
Of the 134 campaigns involving paid advertising identified and removed by Meta, 56% targeted domestic audiences. Only 31% were aimed exclusively at foreign audiences, i.e. users outside the country where the network was established.
Many of the largest networks that Meta removed were run by public relations or marketing firms such as Archimedes Group in Israel and Pragmatico in Ukraine. Meta removes and bans all accounts and pages associated with that firm, regardless of whether it is involved in a particular CIB campaign, to discourage companies from selling "disinformation for hire" services.
CIB campaigns and disinformation are not limited to Facebook and Instagram. Twitter, which calls such activity "information operations", has identified and deleted thousands of accounts on its platform. While researchers have identified misinformation campaigns on TikTok, the company's community compliance reports do not indicate whether or not the platform engages in artificially inflated content.