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US Congressmen Reveal Thousands of Facebook Ads Bought By Russian Trolls (mercurynews.com) 309

An anonymous reader writes: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released about 3,400 Facebook ads purchased by Russian agents around the 2016 presidential election on issues from immigration to gun control, a reminder of the complexity of the manipulation that Facebook is trying to contain ahead of the midterm elections. The ads, which span from mid-2015 to mid-2017, illustrate the extent to which Kremlin-aligned forces sought to stoke social, cultural and political unrest on one of the Web's most powerful platforms. With the help of Facebook's targeting tools, Russia's online army reached at least 146 million people on Facebook and Instagram, its photo-sharing service, with ads and other posts, including events promoting protests around the country...

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers would continue probing Russia's online disinformation efforts. In February, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia and the 2016 election, indicted individuals tied to the IRA for trying to interfere in the presidential race. "They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior," Schiff said in a statement. "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...."

The documents released Thursday also reflect that Russian agents continued advertising on Facebook well after the presidential election... They marketed a page called Born Liberal to likely supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the data show, an ad that had more than 49,000 impressions into 2017. Together, the ads affirmed the fears of some lawmakers, including Republicans, that Russian agents have continued to try to influence U.S. politics even after the 2016 election. Russian agents also had created thousands of accounts on Twitter, and in January, the company revealed that it discovered more than 50,000 automated accounts, or bots, with links to Russia.

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US Congressmen Reveal Thousands of Facebook Ads Bought By Russian Trolls

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    but they didn't have any mod points.

  • by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot.jawtheshark@com> on Friday May 11, 2018 @03:56AM (#56593630) Homepage Journal
    Why is this a problem? I just wonder. Voter influencing, whether by a foreign state or by corporations has always been a thing. The only difference now: it's being done online, using an American company (Facebook).

    You might say: "But, but, the United State of America is a sovereign state, it's the voters and alone the voters who need to decide". Sure, but there is propaganda bought by the parties themselves, by multinational corporations having no allegiance to any country, and whoever wants to put money into influencing a vote. Don't forget that the US likes to interfere with elections of other countries too, but that's a-ok, right?

    Is it perhaps, just the admission that voters are easily swayed by bad propaganda that is hard to admit?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't think anyone is denying that voters are easily swayed by bad propaganda. The problem is that social media has amplified the power of propaganda by order of magnitude compared to the past. The Obama election was the first election in US that demonstrated the power of social media over elections. 2016 was the first time a hostile foreign power successfully swayed our presidential election so of course we need to take a hard look at it to protect future elections. We're ok with our own propaganda,

    • It's always a problem when the wrong person gets elected. When my team wins, it's fine. When Democrats win, watch the Republican party squeal for years.
      • It's a process argument. And we know the truth about those.

      • There's truth to what you're saying. However, that doesn't mean that the squealing is always equally justified (or unjustified). Just because some people are going to squeal whenever they don't win, that doesn't mean that it's not appropriate to "squeal" when someone truly awful and dangerous is elected.
      • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @08:37AM (#56594678) Journal

        Political parties in America are a cancer. This is not football and blindly following someone and not caring what they support just to win and smirk and winning and blocking the other guy creates dysfunction and in actuality bet against the country just to see your guy win.

        Is there anyone American left who cares about principles like no interference regardless of party? The hoopla about how wrong the electoral college is by Trump before he won vs after he won with a 180 turnaround in his views highlight the narrow and dangerous thinking.

        • I was thinking of a scenario......Imagine a case where the country was facing iconic collapse unless certain measures were taken (this is hypothetical, I don't think we've had anything this dire so far). But then imagine that a lot of people had bought gold (or bitcoin), hoping to protect against and even get rich from the collapse. Then you would have a situation where most people would actually vote for collapse. Of course, most people, even the ones who thought they would be protected, would not actually
      • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

        Like last time.

        [John]

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by _Sharp'r_ ( 649297 )

      There isn't even any evidence here that the goal of these ads was to influence voting, elections or politics. The ads were all over the place, basically promoting anything which might have gotten a response from someone, including lots of contradictory things like rallies for opposing candidates and causes. Examples from the article: "pushing arguments for and against immigration, LGBT issues and gun rights". It wasn't exactly just politics, either. For example, there were Pro-Beyoncé vs. Anti-Beyonc

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Hi - Director from a digital ad agency here/marketing jerk.

        Our agency dug into some of the released ads. There were three separate parts of this campaign based on the samples of ads we looked at. The first were broad-reaching memes that people of all ages, geographies, and political opinions would like. This was a top of the funnel (pardon the jargon) to bring people in and get more data about them once they liked or interacted with your page - this is a feature of Facebook and many other platforms which

        • Wish I could vote this up.

          I'm seeing a lot of commentary in various places about how small the ad by is, and half these things don't seem political, etc. Most people are missing the overall strategy entirely.

        • And from your analysis, which was the point of the post-election advertisements? Pump up Trump voters and suppress Hillary voters?

      • by orev ( 71566 )

        You made it half way there but then tanked the conclusion. Spam and likes is a dumb goal to have, and the Russians certainly do not have that goal. Do you really think Putin is just concerned about how many likes he gets on Facebook? No, the REAL goal is to SOW DIVISION AND DISTRUST in our system of government. These are well-known information warfare tactics -- push people, on both sides, to more and more extreme views to destabilize the country and the government.

        You're right, the ads didn't stop at t

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        If it was all just blatant political stuff it wouldn't have seemed like real people. Real people post all sorts of crap.

    • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @08:32AM (#56594658) Journal

      Let me ask you this? If Hillary won and Russia was behind it would you feel the same?

      I think it would be hypocritical either way if you care about your country if you're an American. I am a democrat so of course I am beyond furious but would be too if Hillary won and the reverse was true.

      • Russia was behind Clinton. We know this because the Dossier was largely Russian propaganda funneled through Steele and Fusion GPS, funded by Clinton Campaign. Democrats don't give a shit about that "Russian Collusion", which is the ONLY verified actual link between Russia and either of the two candidates that DID have influence on the election.

        And a year and a half of investigations, special counsels, and a shit tonne of MSM "Russia Trump Collusion", we find out that most of it was actually the US governmen

        • Yet 23 indicements and counting from the Mueller investigation and testimony from the CIA says otherwise.

          Get off of Foxnews

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      I don't have a problem if the Russian government wants to influence US elections, as long as it identifies himself. In fact, I'd very much like to hear their take on things.

      But that's not what they're doing. They're pretending to be Americans in order to sow discord. They don't really care about what they're saying, it's the effect they're after.

    • Just because something happens all the time doesn't mean it's not a problem. It's a problem because it's not propaganda in the traditional sense. This is a hostile foreign power. Their interests are directly opposed to us. Their purpose is to weaken us. That's why it's a problem.

      The goal is to get real and accurate information that people can understand into their hands. When people work off of bad information bad things happen. When that information is specifically crafted to cause bad decisions on a n
  • divide us (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geekymachoman ( 1261484 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @04:06AM (#56593664)
    "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...."

    I'm bored of saying it but... Yes, it's all Russia's fault.

    Reason Trump got elected - Russia.
    Reason BREXIT happpened - Russia.
    When somebody gets poisoned... you know who did it ? - Russia
    Doping scandals - Russia

    /sarcasm If they did anything, it's profit on already pre-existing divisions, they are certainly not the cause of it. There already were stories about some 17yr old KIDS from Poland or Hungary or something creating fake sites / and raking it thousands of dollars in ad revenue (by exploiting the already existing division between left and right)

    When you come from that part of the world, the money is 100% motivation. When you grow up not having any, all you can think off is getting it, especially if you're a teen and your parents always were and are broke - something most Americans can't understand.
    The political situation in US (and religious in the world) is RIPE for making money on, you just have to have a little bit of imagination and have to be kept down for a very long time.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      TFA didn't link to the WaPo story but rather a summary of it. Here's WaPo with a breakdown of the most popular ads: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/05/10/these-are-the-most-popular-russian-facebook-ads-from-each-month/ [washingtonpost.com]
      Lots of BLM, gun rights, and gay rights stuff, but nothing much about the election. Most aren't even incendiary, just piggybacking on slogans already out there. I suspect that you are right about the ad revenue.

      • Lots of BLM, gun rights, and gay rights stuff, but nothing much about the election. Most aren't even incendiary, just piggybacking on slogans already out there. I suspect that you are right about the ad revenue.

        It's not what the ad is, it's who you show it to. You show the ads to people in the opposite camp, not the people who will agree with them. It gets them riled up, and once people are angry they are also stupid, and more likely to reshare some bullshit. Thus, you can promote lies with facts.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      "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...."

      I'm bored of saying it but... Yes, it's all Russia's fault.

      Reason Trump got elected - Russia.

      Reason BREXIT happpened - Russia.

      When somebody gets poisoned... you know who did it ? - Russia

      Doping scandals - Russia

      /sarcasm

      Sorry, but... why is that sarcasm? Those things all happened.

      It's becoming more clear all the time that Russia probably did get Trump elected. They put a lot of effort into trying to help him win, and he won by a slim margin. Russia seems to have at least been part of the Brexit vote. Russia has been caught poisoning people. Russian athletes were caught doping.

      It's kinda like going, "Oh, I see, let's all blame Hitler. Poland gets invaded? - Hitler. Six million Jews murdered? - Hitler. /sarcasm"

    • Which is why "russian trolls" may actually be working at the behest of our own political action groups, since they work cheap and money spent in election cycles is measured in the billions.

      This may also help explain why these adds seemed to target both sides of an issue. Why would they care if their clients were politically opposed; rather that would only help keep their services in demand.

      Lies by omission is the very least one can expect from the sources driving this narrative.

  • by Zappy ( 7013 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @04:19AM (#56593702) Homepage

    The article is just fluff we all already knew. Show me a link to the actual ads.

  • by Barny ( 103770 ) <bakadamage-slashdot@yahoo.com> on Friday May 11, 2018 @05:39AM (#56593970) Journal

    ... about the writer's use of a four-dot ellipsis. What the heck were you thinking?

  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @06:07AM (#56594054) Homepage

    Everyone here seems to think this is no big deal, and that's a bit odd. The main reason it's a big deal is because it skirts campaign finance laws, which encourages American politicians to court relationships with foreign states who want them elected. If you have a foreign state financing your campaign, that's something the American people really should know. More information and more transparency is better.

    The next reason why it's a big deal is that Russia's reason for doing this wasn't about getting Trump elected (they reportedly thought it was impossible) -- it was to weaken the US by stoking more hatred amongst Americans. They're encouraging the far left & right and suppressing the middle group. They've actually succeeded in making you all believe that your "side" winning is more important than working together. Divided you fall.

    • by davide marney ( 231845 ) <davide@marney.netmedia@org> on Friday May 11, 2018 @07:10AM (#56594304) Journal

      It's a minor deal, though, not a big deal. It's a mere blip in campaign advertising. The total ad buy was for $46K. Compare that to the $81 MILLION buy from Clinton and Trump.

    • The main reason it's a big deal is because it skirts campaign finance laws,

      Which are themselves the problem.

      The people squealing about this are the same people who say that you just can't possibly regulate the flow of drugs or humans.

      But somehow you are going to regulate bits? And it's OK because the bit pipes cost money?

      And that's before even mentioning that political speech is precisely what the first amendment was intended to protect.

      • by RobinH ( 124750 )
        Campaign finance isn't about the first amendment/free speech. It's about money. In a democracy everyone's supposed to have an equal vote and an equal voice. Money changes that because people with money can buy more influence and drown out their opposition which gives a minority (people with money) more than their equal voice. The first amendment is about making sure the government can't silence you. Campaign finance law is to regulate the power money has to subvert democracy. That's exactly what this s
  • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @06:10AM (#56594066)

    Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released about 3,400 Facebook ads purchased by Russian agents around the 2016 presidential election on issues from immigration to gun control, a reminder of the complexity of the manipulation

    Russians bought ads in the US to push an agenda and sow discontent. So what?

    The First Amendment doesn't just protect the right of Americans to speak, it protects the right of Americans to hear all views and propaganda, including that of foreigners. This is also not new. Russia has been trying to sow discontent and anger (including using race as an issue) in the US since the Russian revolution. Conversely, the US has been trying to manipulate public opinion and political systems abroad for a long time. Voice of America is one of the more benign examples; the US government has brought down entire governments through media manipulation.

    The US clearly in the past has stood by the principle that broadcasting and distributing political propaganda internationally is legitimate and protected. Censorship of foreign broadcasts is wrong and harmful for the same reason that censorship of domestic broadcasts is wrong and harmful. And that's a principle we should continue to stand by.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      First it didn't happen.

      Then it had no influence.

      Now it had some influence, but that's fine because it's not illegal.

      Next you will realise it's actually illegal in the US and come up with some other reason that we should ignore it.

      • Next you will realise it's actually illegal in the US

        I'm sorry you misunderstood. Yes, it is illegal. I'm saying it shouldn't be and such restrictions are inconsistent with the First Amendment. In fact, I have consistently said that there should be no restrictions on political speech or campaign contributions, domestic or foreign.

        The fact that you're a little slow to pick up on this and need to go through the various stages you list in coming to understand what I have been saying is your problem, not mine.

  • whatever (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @07:58AM (#56594482)

    If ads as incredibly stupid as the few that anybody has actually shown were so amazingly effective as to decide the election, then Russian/Schmussian; every US entity will be running ads just like them next time.

    They'd be idiots not to.

    In reality of course, the Dems just plain lost (albeit by a small margin, as is normal lately), something they just can't seem to come to grips with.

    If this Russian narrative were true, I'd be hiring every single Russian involved. To advertise chewing gum, if nothing else. They are apparently the most awesome and most cost effective advertisers, ever.

    • Re:whatever (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Hodr ( 219920 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @09:37AM (#56595012) Homepage

      Carrying 10 more states and 77 more votes isn't really close. It was only a "close" race if you ignore the actual rules and result.

      If you don't like the way we elect presidents, then campaign for a change. The system made a lot of sense when implemented (and still makes some sense when you remember that every state is a separate entity and deserves some say in the outcome, not just Florida/California/Texas/New York).

      • Carrying 10 more states and 77 more votes isn't really close. It was only a "close" race if you ignore the actual rules and result.

        If you don't like the way we elect presidents, then campaign for a change.

        I like the system just fine. I was just kind of throwing them a bone, since I can be soft hearted, and they are crying so much, lol

  • Evidence that Russian operatives bought and paid for ads on Facebook?

    Seriously, buying ads is serious crime? I may prefer that the Russians stayed out of campaign advertising, but finding it hard to get too worked up over this. These Russian-backed groups didn't do anything that countless American-backed groups didn't also do...

    Tell me Russians snuck into warehouses and tampered with voting machines and I'll be outraged, tell me mark zuckerberg sold them some online ads, hard to get worked up over that.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      If you are working on behalf of a foreign government, doing so without registering as a foreign agent is a crime. Now since not everyone knows this, the normal enforcement action is a letter informing you that you need to fill out a form and send it in before you continue; but technically it's a felony.

      Since the Internet Research Agency is a well-establish psy-ops company, they know very well that they're breaking US law.

  • RIP free speech, we hardly knew yea....
  • This is nothing new. Governments propagandize. We do it as well and have for decades. I'm not sure why it's such a big deal now, I guess because the US media that overwhelmingly supported Clinton, first against The Bern and then even more stridently against Trump, got outplayed. Propaganda, in the eyes of the MSM, is their monopoly in the USA.

  • holy crap. I can't guarantee that i haven't been, indirectly or directly, influenced by these. I like to think i look at everything on the internet as fake until it's been verified multiple times by multiple sources, but I am far more worried about how much further back they go than this representative set. I'd be terrified if was facebook right now looking at/for other "faction" ads that might not be represented here. Thus far I've found the alt right, the alt left, BLM, LGBTQ as being targeted (and it se

  • If we judge by results, Russian trolls are a failure. US foreign actions are quite hostile to Russian interests.

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