Thousands of Facebook and Instagram advertisements taken out by a Russian internet group were released on Thursday in a database that illustrates how a concerted effort was made to foment anger and split US society around the 2016 election.
Democrats of the House Intelligence Community released records of more than 3,000 ads from 2015-2017 that were allegedly placed by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency, a Saint Petersburg operation that allegedly spreads disinformation and political propaganda across the internet and social media in Russia and in countries where Moscow wants to influence politics.
The ads and postings show a pattern of stirring up anger among different groups, encouraging support for then-candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, and discouraging support for his rival Hillary Clinton.
There were ads placed on conservative Facebook pages highlighting attacks on police and the dangers of immigration, and linking African-American activists to Muslims.
And, conversely, ads placed on African American-oriented pages focused on police brutality and white supremacist groups, often linking to articles that would stoke black anger. Some were just cute or funny, seemingly designed to get likes and forwards that would draw users to a page that had other more political material.
Others were cleverly designed just to slightly tweak voter motivation, such as one aimed at conservative voters in key states which featured a quote from former president Ronald Reagan: "If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under." Many of the ads have been made public over the past year, but the database provides a fuller picture of an effort that cost the Russians barely USD 100,000 to reach 126 million Americans and arguably impact the race that sent Trump to the White House over favored Clinton.
"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," said Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
"Ultimately, by exposing these advertisements, we hope to better protect legitimate political expression and discussions and better safeguard Americans from having their information ecosystem polluted by foreign adversaries." Facebook has said the 3,000 ads were linked to 470 "inauthentic accounts and pages" that have now been closed down.
It announced in April that it will require political ads on its platform to state who is paying for the message and that it would verify the identity of the payer.