In October, Democratic lawmakers released a sampling of the 3,000-plus Facebook ads that Russian operatives purchased during and after the 2016 presidential election. Facebook has said that an estimated 150 million people on Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram, saw ads that were created and paid for by a Russian propaganda firm. If you're curious whether you're one of those people, there's now a tool to check if you "liked" any Russian propaganda on Facebook during election season.
One important note: The tool in question, which Facebook released Friday, will determine whether or not you clicked "like" on any ads or pages that were paid for by Russian operators. It will not, however, tell you if you merely saw one of the ads ads on your news feed passively but didn't actually interact with it in any formal way.
Although there's a general consensus that the Russian government preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, the ads that Russian operators bought, which you can view here, were not uniformly pro-Trump. Some appeared to target progressive and leftist communities, specifically Black Lives Matter and groups opposed to police brutality, while a small number of the Russian ads were explicitly anti-Trump — such as one from three days after the election that urged Trump opponents to stage a protest against him in New York City.
Moreover, although many discussions about the 2016 election have focused on the preponderance of "fake news," the ads Russia bought didn't contain much in the way of news, real or fake. Rather, they appeared more focused on promoting specific messages or candidates than delivering actual information.
Some people, such as Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, have suggested that Russia purchased the ads not only to help Trump's campaign, but also in an attempt to inflame existing political tensions within the U.S.
"The social media campaign was also designed to further a broader Kremlin objective: sowing discord in the U.S. by inflaming passions on a range of divisive issues," Schiff said during a November hearing. "The Russians did so by weaving together fake accounts, pages and communities to push politicized content and videos and to mobilize real Americans to sign online petitions and join rallies and protests."
Facebook has been criticized for being slow the acknowledge the extent to which its platform was used by Russia during the 2016 election. In July, a spokesperson for the company told CNN that "we have seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election."
But the company reversed course in September, with Facebook's chief security officer acknowledging in a blog post that roughly 3,000 ads that appeared on the network in 2016 were paid for by firms that "likely operated out of Russia." Although the company claimed to have only recently made that discovery, lawmakers — specifically Democratic lawmakers — were not pleased that it took the company so long to confirm the allegations of Russian involvement in 2016 ad buys.
“I have more than a little bit of frustration that many of us on this committee have been raising this issue since the beginning of this year, and our claims were, frankly, blown off by the leadership of your companies,” Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at one of several hearings on the issue earlier in the year. "Candidly, your companies know more about Americans than the United States government does and the idea that you had no idea that any of this was happening strains my credibility."
As for the tool Facebook released Friday, it's rather straightforward. Simply log in to your account, go to this page, and you'll be told whether or not you liked any Russian propaganda during the campaign.