The United States Congress this week has been holding a series of hearings into how Russia, using online trolls and psychological warfare experts, manipulated Facebook, Twitter and even the search engine giant Google to cause political chaos in the U.S., and help tilt the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. On Wednesday, Congress made some of the evidence of Russia’s Facebook manipulation public, releasing 13 Facebook advertisements placed by accounts linked to Russia, with the Russians posing as American political activists.
The House Select Committee on Intelligence also released a series of ads placed by the Russian propaganda “news” outlet RT. To see the full list of Russian Facebook ads released on Wednesday, with links to each ad, visit this link.
The release covers just a small sample of what are believed to be about 3,000 Facebook ads placed by Russians attempting to tamper with the U.S. election last year.
On Wednesday, representatives of Facebook — who have revised their estimate of how many people were reached by the ads three times so far — said that the deceptive Russian ads reached a staggering 146 million people — upwards of 11 million more than the 134.6 million Americans who actually voted in last year’s presidential election.
Earlier this week, Facebook representatives put that number at 126 million — well above their initial estimate of only 10 million people reached by the Russian phony political ads.
In one example of an ad designed to help Trump and inflame the passions of Trump supporters against his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Russians created a phony activist group on Facebook called “Donald Trump America,” and paid for an ad calling for signatures on a petition to disqualify Clinton from the November election ballot, supposedly due to the “dynastic succession of the Clinton family.”
The ad, targeted at Facebook users who had expressed interest in either Trump or his son, Donald Trump Jr., was seen by about 35,000 Facebook users — who clicked on the ad 6,000 times. Amazingly, Facebook failed to detect that the ad was a Russian fake even though its buyers paid for it in rubles, the Russian currency. In U.S. cash, the ad cost about $240.
Another ad from a Russian-created phony activist group called “Being Patriotic” also targeted Clinton, calling for a “Down With Hillary!” rally on July 23 in New York City.
Many of the Russian Facebook ads were aimed at inciting anger at Muslims, as both the House and Senate intelligence committees heard this week. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr, a Republican, posted several of the anti-Muslim ads to his Twitter account.
— Richard Burr (@SenatorBurr) November 1, 2017
The House Intelligence Committee released an anti-Muslim Facebook ad traced to a Russian account going by the name “Stop All Invaders,” which called for a ban on the traditional Muslim female covering garb, the burqa, in the United States.
In one case, an ad that originated in St. Petersburg, Russia — hometown of Russian President Vladimir Putin and site of one of the most prolific Russian “troll farms,” a cyber-war operation financed by a billionaire who is known as Putin’s personal chef — called for an anti-Muslim rally outside an Islamic community center in Houston, Texas.
At the same time, the Russian psychological warfare experts also placed a Facebook ad appearing to be pro-Muslim and calling for a counter demonstration at the same time, outside the same community center. Crowds showed up for both simultaneous events, facing off across the street from each other. But not surprisingly, none of the events’ Russian organizers attended. The ads cost the Russians about $200.
“What neither side could’ve known is that Russian trolls were encouraging both sides to battle in the streets and create division between real Americans,” Burr said on Wednesday. “It’s hard to attend an event in Houston, Texas, when you’re trolling from a site in St. Pete, Russia.”
[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]