Wow, the Russians didn’t have to spend much to influence the 2016 election.
Congress just dropped the Russian trolling motherlode.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released on Thursday more than 3,000 Facebook ads from 2015 to late 2017 bought by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA). The company, which is , used these ads on Facebook — and on Facebook-owned Instagram — to try to create political chaos and hurt US democracy, lawmakers said.
You can download all of the ads here. They add up to about 7.9 gigabytes of data.
Congress offered a taste of the Russia-sponsored ads on Facebook during a November hearing. On Thursday, committee members released every ad.
“The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see first-hand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
These ads, which popped up as sponsored posts in the news feeds of specifically targeted groups of Facebook users, were heavily promoted during the US presidential election in 2016.
US Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat of Alabama, stands before a printout of a social media post that targeted Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Sewell spoke during a House Intelligence Committee hearing last November.
The release of all the ads includes summaries about them, such as which pages an ad posted on, who was targeted, how many people saw it, how many people clicked on it and how long the ad ran.
For example, one post from June 2016 targeted Facebook users in the Washington, DC, area who were age 16 to 53 and interested in Hillary Clinton or the Muslim Brotherhood. The Russians paid 3,981 rubles for it, or about $63. About 1,849 people saw the ad, and 94 ended up clicking on it.
Altogether, Russia-backed operatives spent up to $100,000 on all the ads.
That’s not counting the 126 million Americans who saw 80,000 “organic” posts from supposed Facebook users who actually worked for the IRA, Facebook said in October. Those posts generated millions of views without the IRA having to pay Facebook a single cent (or a ruble). The House Intelligence Committee members said they expect to make those posts public in the future.
Last month, Facebook deleted 70 Facebook accounts, 138 Facebook pages and 65 Instagram accounts run by the IRA.
“This will never be a solved problem because we’re up against determined, creative and well-funded adversaries. But we are making steady progress,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.
Facebook said it’s taken a number of actions since its advertising fiasco unfolded. The company has updated its ads policy, requiring political content to be verified and labeled. The social network said it will allow people to see all the ads one account is running across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, archiving it for the last seven years. That feature is already available in Canada and Ireland and will launch globally in June, according to Facebook.
Facebook makes much of its money by selling hyper-targeted ads. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress in April that companies pay Facebook to direct content to people they believe will buy their products.
From the summaries about the Russia-backed ads, it appears the IRA knew just how effective that targeting algorithm is — not just for selling products, but for stirring up political issues.
In a sponsored post from April 2016, Russian operatives posed as “Black Matters,” urging people to vote for Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who was then competing against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.
That ad cost 2,786.36 rubles, or $44. It got 46,437 views, and 5,607 clicks.
A “Black Matters” page was one of the IRA’s more successful, with more 224,000 followers.
Other posts by Black Matters would target people who read BlackNews.com or HuffPost Black Voices. Facebook said it has since removed nearly one-third of the terms that the IRA used to target audiences.
The House Democrats broke down the more than 3,000 ads into nine categories:
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