Russian Facebook adverts used to dismantle the US election revealed
The entire cache of Russian-bought Facebook adverts, which were intended to distort voters’ political views ahead of the US election, have finally been released to the public. The collection of memes and cartoons were promoted on Facebook in return for a fee as part of an aggressive, two-year campaign by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA). The files, which were published on Thursday by the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee, include explicit condemnations of Republican and Democratic policies. It includes frequent referrals to Hillary Clinton as a “criminal”, emotive anti-police rhetoric and calls for black lives matter protests. Among the sensitive and politicised posts, there were several seemingly inoffensive memes and jokes - the kind often shared on the social network - which may have been a ploy to get Facebook users liking and sharing pages that would later publish propaganda, ultimately increasing its visibility. A total of 3,393 adverts bought between May 2015 to June 2017 were viewed by more than 11.4 million Americans. They ranged from anti-police messages masquerading as black lives matter protest material to anti-Hillary Clinton memes. One promoted page shared doctored images promoting greater border control, a policy promoted by Donald Trump. The Internet Research Agency specified that it was seen by people who had an interest in Immigration, racism and excluded those already interested in secured borders One example includes a doctored image of fires burning on the US and Mexico border with the road sign “invaders not allowed” along with a police badge. The text on top of the sponsored post, reads: “Secured borders should be a top priority. We need to protect America now more than ever”. The IRA specified that the post was promoted to people who would agree with its content and showed interest in the following categories: "United States, Conservatism, Deportation, Stop Illegal Immigration, Julian Assange, Laura Ingraham, Ron Paul, National identity, Welfare state, United States Department of Homeland Security, Donald Trump, Bill O'Reilly (political commentator), Illegal immigration, Wikileaks, Law enforcement, Republican Party (United States), Patriotism, Old Glory, United States Constitution, Immigration law, Conservatism in the United States, Foreign policy, Christopher Hitchens, United States Bill of Rights, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Mike Huckabee, Racism in the United States or Politics and social issues". It asked Facebook to exclude people "who like Secured Borders". Another image, showing Satan and Jesus clinched in an arm wrestle with the words "If Clinton wins Satan wins" was targeted at people who had liked pages related to stopping illegal immigration, Christianity, Jesus, Fox News, Donald Trump or Mike Pence. The content of the adverts did not technically violate Facebook's policies, the social network said, but the pages that shared them have been banned. Upon release of the material, Facebook admitted that it would never solve the problem of foreign influence “because we are up against determined, creative and well-funded adversaries”. The Internet Research Agency requested that this post, which was seen by more than 1,400 people, was sent to liberals aged between 18 and 65 This anti-Clinton advert was seen by 15,000 people "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," Facebook said. “We were too slow to spot this type of information operations interference. Since then, we’ve made important changes to prevent bad actors from using misinformation to undermine the democratic process.” In an attempt to stamp out a repeat incident, Facebook will send postcards to anyone looking to buy political advertising that mentions a specific candidate running for federal office in the US. The letter will contains a specific code that will need to be input online to verify the person lives on home soil. It added that it had invested in better technology to disable fake accounts and is doubling the number of people working on “safety” and “security” from 10,000 to 20,000 even though it expected those investments to impact its profitability. The social network is still investigating foreign influence leading up to the Brexit referendum. It recently announced it would suspend foreign-funded abortion related advertising in Ireland leading up to the referendum on the eighth amendment this month.