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Content Ad Networks Say Russian Trolls Did Not Use Their Platforms For Election Propaganda

Update: Outbrain concluded its internal investigation and says it "found no evidence of bad actors using our platform to influence elections.

Last updated on October 18, 2017, at 1:43 p.m. ET

Posted on October 17, 2017, at 10:02 a.m. ET

Content recommendation ad networks such as Outbrain and Taboola, whose clicky content sprawls across the web, say they found no evidence that Russian ads or other forms of election tampering took place on their platforms during the 2016 election.

Outbrain claims to reach more than 550 million visitors per month via content recommendation modules it places on websites of publishers such as CNN, People, and ESPN. It initially told BuzzFeed News it was “conducting a thorough investigation specific to election tampering and continue[s] to monitor our index."

A day later, company CEO Yaron Galai issued a statement to say it "found no evidence of bad actors using our platform to influence elections."

"Given the seriousness of this issue and out of an abundance of caution, we proactively undertook this effort over the course of many weeks to ensure we got it right. Outbrain has always been dedicated to combating fake content, and we remain vigilant in fighting those who attempt to misuse our platform.”

Outbrain's statement comes in the wake of Facebook, Google, and Twitter disclosing that a Russian troll factory purchased ads on their platforms to influence, and divide, Americans before and after the 2016 election. Facebook recently handed over more than 3,000 ads purchased on its platform by the Russians, while Twitter informed congressional investigators that the same group ran 200 accounts on its platform.

"The attempt to spread misinformation that impacts elections is obviously very concerning to us," the initial Outbrain statement said. "Outbrain has been proactive in combating fake content in the past."

Two other large content ad networks contacted by BuzzFeed News said they also checked for possible Russian ad purchases and did not found any.

"To our knowledge we do not have any ads on Taboola placed from Russian clients that fit the type disclosed by other advertising platforms," Adam Singolda, the CEO of Taboola, which says it reaches 1 billion visitors per month, told BuzzFeed News. "These types of ads are strictly against our policy. We have a diligent review process, where we closely monitor our advertisers."

Revcontent conducted a review after being contacted by BuzzFeed News and said its compliance team did not identify any Russian ad purchases.

"We just finalized our audit and we found we have no political oriented ads from suspicious Russian IPs," said Katherine Mcdermott, the brand manager for Revcontent.

BuzzFeed News also contacted to ask if it has investigated whether Russian ads were placed on its platform. The company did not immediately reply.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.