The Russian company charged with orchestrating a wide-ranging effort to meddle in the 2016 presidential election overwhelmingly focused its barrage of social media advertising on what is arguably America’s rawest political division: race.
The roughly 3,500 Facebook ads were created by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency, which is at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s February indictment of 13 Russians and three companies seeking to influence the election.
While some ads focused on topics as banal as business promotion or Pokémon, the company consistently promoted ads designed to inflame race-related tensions. 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 U.S. border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community.
The company continued to hammer racial themes even after the election.
USA TODAY Network reporters reviewed each of the 3,517 ads, which were released to the public this week for the first time by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The analysis included not just the content of the ads, but also information that revealed the specific audience targeted, when the ad was posted, roughly how many views it received and how much the ad cost to post.
...Alfred Ng at CNET:
Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton. A few dozen referenced questions about the U.S. election process and voting integrity, while a handful mentioned other candidates like Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush
The most successful Facebook ad bought by Russian trolls managed to fool more than 1,334,000 people.
The post was a promotion for the Facebook group "Back the Badge," which claimed to be a "community of people who support our brave Police Officers." It was actually run by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-linked troll farm that pushed out more than 80,000 posts focused on divisive issues in the US.
The same group also made posts pretending to be Black Lives Matter activists and Trump supporters, but it was the fake police support that gave it the most traffic.