What Do The Russian Facebook Election Ads Look Like? You'll Recognize Some Of These
On Wednesday, Congress released a handful of Facebook and Instagram ads that Russian agents reportedly used to sow discord among Americans during the 2016 election cycle. The ads were made public on the second day of congressional hearings in which lawyers from Facebook, Google, and Twitter were questioned about their responses to interference from Russia on their social media platforms. The ads released show that Russia made an effort to bolster divisions between both Republicans and Democrats.
The examples released by the U.S. House of Representatives target users from both ends of the political spectrum. Ads, for example, feature a Bernie Sanders coloring book, promote an anti-Trump rally in New York City, and equate Hillary Clinton with the devil.
According to Facebook, 126 million people may have viewed posts and content from Russian-affiliated pages. On top of that, Facebook Vice President and General Counsel Colin Stretch, in response to a question from Sen. Mark Warner, reportedly said that the company had not identified the full scope of Russia's activities on the website.
In turn, Twitter had reportedly found at least 2,700 accounts associated with a Russian group that allegedly tweeted more than 131,000 times between September and November 2016. Beyond that, 36,000 Russia-affiliated bots were also identified on the social media platform, and they reportedly tweeted about the 2016 election 1.4 million times.
The ads released on Wednesday were just a sampling of the thousands turned over to Congress.
"A Coloring Book For Berniacs"
Westboro Baptist Church Counter Protest
Hate Crimes Against Muslims
"The Promotion Of Confidence"
Don't Mess With Texas
Tea Party News
Bernie Vs. Clinton Foundation
"Hillary Is A Satan"
Pitting Hillary Against Veterans
An Anti-Trump Rally
"The Word Of Truth"
A Redacted Pro-Trump Ad
At times, the hearings were intense. Some senators expressed direct dissatisfaction with how the ad-buying played out, or with the amount of information that lawyers had available to share.
The Guardian reports that Sen. Al Franken was particularly relentless in his questioning. He seemed to do everything he could to hold, particularly, Facebook to task. At one point, he tore into Stretch, demanding to know why Facebook could not do better to prevent Russian meddling:
How did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points and instantly transform them into personal connections for its users, somehow not make the connection that electoral ads paid for in roubles were coming from Russia? Those are two data points! American political ads and Russian money: rubles. How could you not connect those two dots?
Franken continued to express extreme frustration with the situation, asking whether Facebook would have been alarmed if someone was buying ads with North Korean currency. Stretch responded that international currency was not necessarily reflective of where an individual ad was coming from.
"I think in hindsight, we should have had a broader lens," he said. "There were signals we missed and we are now focused."
Franken was not the only senator exasperated with the companies over the course of the hearings. Sen. Angus King of Maine told the lawyers that he was disappointed that they were there instead of the CEOs. Specifically, he contended that the chief executives would have been helpful because the congresspeople were interested in discussing company policies.
Sen. Kamala Harris responded when told that neither Twitter, Google, nor Facebook had analyzed exactly how much money their respective companies had made from Russian-backed advertisement:
I find that difficult to understand because it would seem to me that we would figure out how much you've profited from Russian propaganda on your platforms.
Overall, the ads shared with the public are striking in their sweeping ability to target members of most mainstream political affiliations. They promoted divisions not just between the left and the right, but also encouraged factions to form within each side. As investigations continue into alleged Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election, the extent to which they may have acted is slowly coming into focus.
There are, however, still many questions unanswered, including what effect these ads may have actually had on individuals who viewed and/or shared their content.