Most Russian Ads on Facebook Were Aimed at Dividing Americans on Race: Report

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Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), charged with meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, focused on dividing the Americans over race via its 3,517 ads on Facebook. Democrats from the US House Intelligence Committee last week released 3,517 advertisements that were run on Facebook by the IRA during the 2014-2016 period. USA Today went through each and every ad and found that out of the 3,517 ads published, about 1,950 referred to race and were seen about 25 million times. “Some dealt with race directly; others dealt with issues fraught with racial and religious baggage such as ads focused on protests over policing, the debate over a wall on the US border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community,” said the report on Sunday.

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At least 25 percent of the ads focused on issues involving crime and policing, often with a racial connotation. “Separate ads, launched simultaneously, would stoke suspicion about how police treat black people in one ad, while another encouraged support for pro-police groups,” said the report. Between September and November 2016, the number of race-related spots rose to 400. An additional 900 were posted after the November election through May 2017.

Several ads mixed race and policing, with many mimicking “Black Lives Matter” activists that melded real news events with accusations of abuse by white officers. “More than 11.4 million American users were exposed to those advertisements. The data made available today does not include the 80,000 pieces of organic content shared on Facebook by the IRA. We expect to make this content public in the future,” the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement last week.

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Exposure of organic content may have reached more than 126 million Americans, it added. “Russia sought to weaponise social media to drive a wedge between Americans, and in an attempt to sway the 2016 election,” tweeted Adam Schiff, Democrats’ ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. Reacting to Schiff, Facebook said that it gave more than 3,000 ads to Congress so they could better understand the extent of Russian interference in the last US Presidential election.

“In the run-up to the 2016 elections, we were focused on the kinds of cybersecurity attacks typically used by nation states, for example, phishing and malware attacks. “And we were too slow to spot this type of information operations interference. Since then, we have made important changes to prevent bad actors from using misinformation to undermine the democratic process,” Facebook said in a blog post. On February 16, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three Russian organisations for engaging in operations to interfere with US political and electoral processes, including the 2016 presidential election.

Throughout the indictment, Mueller lays out important facts about the activities of the IRA, the notorious Russian “troll” farm, and its operatives.

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