Lawmakers on Wednesday released a trove of Facebook ads linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process and whip up tensions around divisive social issues.
The ads, dozens of which were disclosed for the first time, were released as representatives of leading social media companies faced criticism on Capitol Hill about why they hadn’t done more to combat Russian interference on their sites and prevent foreign agents from meddling in last year’s election.
Some of the ads took opposing sides of the same issue. One touts an event to “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims!” with a picture of a woman in a hijab beside Hillary Clinton. Another for a group called “Stop A.I.” urged viewers to “like and share if you want burqa banned in America,” because the full-body covering could be hiding a terrorist.
U.S. intelligence agencies have said the Russian government exploited social media as part of a sprawling, and surreptitious, campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Republican candidate Donald Trump. The FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller are investigating potential ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to tip the election, and prosecutors this week announced the first charges in that probe.
The Facebook ads released by members of the House intelligence committee are just a sample of the ones purchased by Russians to sow discord on hot-button issues. In preparation for hearings this week, Facebook disclosed that content generated by a Russian group, the Internet Research Agency, potentially reached as many as 126 million users. Facebook had earlier turned over more than 3,000 advertisements linked to that group.
Several ads released Wednesday used broken English and had punctuation mistakes, like a coloring book for Bernie Sanders supported by a group calling itself “LGBT United,” which read: “stop taking this whole thing too serious. The coloring is something that suits for all people. …”