Democrats on the House intelligence committee have released more than 3,500 Facebook ads that were created or promoted by a Russian internet agency, providing the fullest picture yet of Russia's attempt to sow racial and political division in the United States before and after the 2016 election.
Late a year ago, Facebook executives offered many public apologies for their failure to recognize and stop these ads. Some were just cute or amusing, seemingly created to get likes and forwards that would draw users to a page that had other more political material.
Among other efforts to curb bad actors, Facebook is focusing on greater ad transparency, verification and labeling, intelligence sharing with governments, and specific actions against Russian operatives. The Committee Minority also released a list of Twitter accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency and a representative sampling of Facebook ads paid for by the group. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of USA persons and entities. But that was only after special counsel Robert Mueller III obtained a search warrant for the FBI's investigation. They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior.
"There's no question that Russian Federation sought to weaponize social media platforms to drive a wedge between Americans, and in an attempt to sway the 2016 election", said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "But we are making steady progress".
The trove of ads released Thursday appears to back the assertion that the Russians wanted to hurt Clinton. Facebook has said the 3,000 ads were linked to 470 "inauthentic accounts and pages" that have now been closed down. Another 20 million saw IRA-generated content on Instagram. The company outlined several changes it has already made to its ad policies.
Most of the ads are issue-based, pushing arguments for and against immigration, LGBT issues and gun rights, among other issues. Accounts like United Muslims of America urged viewers in NY in March 2016 to "stop Islamophobia and the fear of Muslims". Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants' operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump ("Trump Campaign") and disparaging Hillary Clinton. And other accounts linked to the IRA sought to target Muslims: One ad highlighted by the House Intelligence Committee called President Barack Obama a "traitor" who had acted as a "pawn in the hands of Arabian Sheikhs".
"Over time, these social media accounts became Defendants' means to reach significant numbers of Americans for purposes of interfering with the US political system, including the presidential election of 2016." . Another by Heart of Texas urged viewers to "honor your ancestors" and join a rally for the state to secede - a post that had been shared 266 times before Facebook removed Russian-generated content.