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During And After The 2016 Election, Russian Online Trolls Bought 3,400 Facebook Ads

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Between 2015 and 2017, Russian trolls purchased 3,400 Facebook ads to influence the election. The trolls often posed as supporters of different interest groups and posted fake status updates.  ( Mladen Antonov | AFP/Getty Images )

While it was known that Russian trolls used social media networks to influence the 2016 election, a new batch of Facebook ads showcases how extensive it was.

What Did The Intelligence Committee Release?

On Thursday, May 10, House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee released 3,400 Facebook advertisements that were purchased by Russian trolls posing as Americans. Previously, the committee released less than 100 Facebook ads.

The ads were purchased and displayed on Facebook from mid-2015 to mid-2017. In addition to the ads, the Russian trolls also created fake accounts, posted status updates, shared videos, and created events. The combined reach of both the ads and organic posts was 146 million people on Facebook and Instagram.

"They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior," said Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee. "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 ads were created to get people to "Like" Russian-created Facebook pages that produced organic content. The recent documents also show how Russians trolls continued to influence American politics after the 2016 election with propaganda.

The Facebook Ads That Trolls Purchased

The Russian trolls spent $100,000 in rubles to buy ads on Facebook, which were targeted at specific users. The trolls targeted and imitated Donald Trump supporters, Black Lives Matter activists, and other groups of voters as a means to influence public opinion. Some of the trolls even targeted Bernie Sanders supporters with a fake Facebook page and ads.

The trolls carefully chose to create pages for both sides of major issues. For example, some trolls posed as critics of immigration, and targeted like-minded users. Other trolls targeted Mexican-Americans to influence their votes.

In addition to targeting users by interest, some trolls created ads that targeted voters by zip code. The goal here was to convince voters in certain geographic regions to attend an event that was promoted with Facebook Ads.

How Will Social Media Respond?

"This will never be a solved problem because we're up against determined, creative and well-funded adversaries," Facebook said in a statement after the release of the ads. "But we are making steady progress."

Social media networks have pledged to vet political ads to prevent this from happening again. Facebook recently announced that it will label political ads in the future.

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