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Netizen 24 AUS: Thousands of Facebook ads bought by Russians to fool US voters released by Congress

Posted by On 6:27 PM

Thousands of Facebook ads bought by Russians to fool US voters released by Congress

Thousands of Facebook ads bought by Russians to fool U.S. voters released by CongressCLOSE

The Russian ads, released by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, offer the public the first in-depth look at the attempts to divide the U.S. ahead of the 2016 election.

SAN FRANCISCO â€" Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released thousands of Russian Facebook ads on Thursday, offering the public its first in-depth look at the troubling messages used to heighten tensions among Americans during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The release of the ads, which Facebook says were purchased by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency to sway public sentiment, comes as the giant social network races to tighten restrictions on political ads to head off manipulation of upcoming elections, including this fall's hotly contested midterms.

Pressure has intensified since the Justice Department charged 13 Russians and three companies in February, exposing a wide-ranging effort to subvert the election and to support the Trump campaign.

Facebook pages with points of view that span the political spectrum from "Blacktivist" to "Heart of Texas" bought ads. Some of the more than 3,000 ads denounced Donald Trump, others his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

Many of the ads, placed by Russians posing as Americans, didn't endorse a specific candidate but spread inflammatory messages on sensitive subjects such as immigration and race to amplify fault lines in American life, targeting users from specific backgrounds and tight races in key states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia.

These negative appeals included a group called Fit Black, which urged pe ople to attend “Black Fist Free Self-Defense Classes.” Another from the Army of Jesus encouraged voters to pick a president with “godly morals" with a picture of Jesus arm-wrestling Satan.

The Facebook ads varied in their effectiveness and reach, with some only being shared a few hundred times, others seen hundreds of thousands or more than 1 million times. They ran just over two years starting in June 2015, increasing in volume in October and November 2016, just before and after the presidential election, but also showing spikes in April and May of 2016 and also April and May of 2017.

Patterns quickly emerge in sampling the ads. Many of the hundreds of ads placed in April 2016 targeted racial divisions in American society, encouraging African-American political activism by imitating the language and messaging of the Black Lives Matter movement with posts highlighting racist incidents and others the resilience and beauty of the African-American community.

< p>A smaller contingent that month targeted conservative Facebook users. Festooned with American flags, they sounded patriotic themes including reverence for the constitution. Still others contained calls for Americans to "take care of our vets, not illegals."

Facebook says it has taken a much more aggressive stance on political and issue ads, forcing people who buy them to verify their identity and location and to reveal publicly who they are.

Russian Facebook ads meant to stir dissension in the U.S. Fullscreen

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Until September, when it identified 470 accounts that purchased 3,000 ads for more than $100,000 over a two-year period, Facebook repeatedly denied the Russians exploited its platform. In fact, Russian operatives availed themselves of the precise nature of the ad targeting offered by Facebook, zeroing in on categories of Facebook users, such as gun lovers, Trump supporters, residents of certain places, and more. They also took advantage of Facebook’s computer algorithms, which at the time favored sensationalist posts that drive more reaction.

Ten million Americans saw the ads, Facebook estimat es, and 146 million Americans, or nearly half of the U.S. population, may have been reached by content from Russian operatives such as status updates and videos on Facebook and Instagram, also owned by Facebook.

The extent of election meddling put Facebook on the defensive and served as a wake-up call for Facebook users, who for years allowed the culling of their personal information in exchange for the free service without much thought to what happens to that data, let alone whether an adversarial foreign power could exploit it to provoke outrage over polarizing issues from gay rights to gun rights.

More: Facebook ads: Russians targeted Texas secessionist movement, ripped Hillary Clinton

More: Here's how Russian manipulators were able to target Facebook users

After Facebook handed over the ads to Congress, lawmakers made dozens of them available to the public. House Intelligence Committee leaders pledged at the time to provide all of the ads to the public to increase awareness of the Russian manipulation.

With the spotlight on upcoming midterms in the U.S. and other key elections around the globe, Facebook says it's moved aggressively to prevent foreign interference and anticipate new tactics to undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

Political ads will be labeled and Facebook users will be provided more information about them, such as who paid for them. Facebook users will be able to see who placed an ad and some information about those users who saw the ad, as well as view other ads run by the same page. That includes the hot-button social issue ads.

Facebook also reduced the ad targeting capability, removing nearly one-third of the terms used by the IRA, some because they weren't often used, others because Facebook says they didn't reflect Facebook's "principles."

It's a major turnabout for Facebook, which for years resisted complying with federal ad disclosure rules that apply to other types of media. Pressured by lawmakers, Zuckerberg promised last year to take steps to deter foreign governments from using Facebook to manipulate elections and to increase disclosure in political ads. Zuckerberg now says he supports a bipartisan Senate bill, the Honest Ads Act, which would bring political advertising on social media more in line with what is required on television and radio.

Since the 2012 presidential election, political campaigns are increasingly using Facebook to target particular voters in a more precise, cost-effective way. Yet the social network is not currently required to follow any of the campaign finance laws that apply to other media.

"Going forward, we're going to address this by verifying the identity of every single advertiser who's running political or issue-oriented ads to make it so that foreign actors or people trying to spoof their identity or say that they 're someone that they're not cannot run political ads or run large pages," Zuckerberg said during last month's testimony on Capitol Hill.

Mark Zuckerberg, the real face of Facebook Fullscreen

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Life-sized cutouts of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are placed by the advocacy group Avaaz on the lawn of the United States Capitol in Washington on April 10, 2018, ahead of Zuckerberg's appearance before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Fullscreen Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 9, 2018, to meet with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Zuckerberg will testify Tuesday before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Com mittees about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. Fullscreen Facebook's Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress in wake of the controversy over the leak of users' data. This is not the first time Zuckerberg faces concerns about privacy on the popular social site. But it was prompted by news Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of tens of millions of Facebook users to sway the U.S. presidential election. Click ahead to see Zuckerberg through the years. Fullscreen Lawmakers expressed anger last fall when Facebook and other social media companies sent their attorneys rather than their CEOs to testify about Russia's use of their platforms to meddle in the 2016 election. Zuckerberg only agreed to testify this week under intense pressure from Congress and continuing pri vacy breach revelations. Fullscreen Harvard dropout Zuckerberg, center, greets graduating Harvard students on May 25, 2017, before giving the commencement address. Fullscreen Zuckerberg launched Facebook on Feb. 4, 2004, leaving Harvard his sophomore year. Three college friends sued him, saying he siphoned their ideas to help create the platform. A settlement was reached in the matter. Fullscreen Zuckerberg dons an Oculus Rift at Connect to interact in VR with two other colleagues. Fullscreen Zuckerberg meets with Matt Prestbury, the administrator of a closed Facebook group called Black Fathers. Fullscreen Mark Zuckerberg me t with 18 Facebook users the company brought to Menlo Park, Calif., to help mark the social network's 12th birthday. Fullscreen Zuckerburg obliges with selfie at the anniversary party. Fullscreen Mark Zuckerberg meets with a group of entrepreneurs and innovators during a round-table discussion at Cortex Innovation Community technology hub in St. Louis in November. Facebook said on April 5 that it has shut down a feature that let people search for users if they had their phone number or email address. Zuckerberg said the company had tried Â"rate limitingÂ" the searches, which restricted how many searches someone can conduct at one time. But he said this was circumvented by bad actors cycling through multiple IP addresses. Fullscreen The 33-year-old billionaire was born on May 14th, 1984, in White Plains, N.Y. His parents, Karen and Edward, are a psychiatrist and dentist, respectively. He showed academic excellence early on, attending Phillips Exeter Academy and winning awards in math, science by his junior year. Even before entering Harvard he was known as programming wizkid. Fullscreen Pope Francis meets Zuckerberg at the Santa Marta residence in Vatican City. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke says the two discussed Â"how to use communication technologies to alleviate poverty, encourage a culture of encounter, and make a message of hope arrive, especially to those most in need.Â'Â' Fullscreen Zuckerberg hugs President Obama during the 2016 Global Entrepeneurship Summit at Stanford University on June 24, 2016. Fullscreen In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg and D.J. Koh, Samsung's president of mobile communications Business, met in Barcelona at the annual Mobile World Congress. The event hosts some of the world's largest communication companies, with many unveiling their latest phones and gadgets. Fullscreen Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes in for a hug with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg after a townhall meeting at Facebook headquarters on Sept. 27, 2015. Fullscreen Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, and the country's Internet chief, Lu Wei, talk with Zuckerberg during a gathering at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., in September 2015. Xi and top executives from U.S. and Chinese companies discussed a range of issues, including trade relations, intellectual property protection, regulation transparency and clean energy, according to published repor ts. Fullscreen In 2012, Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, left, and Zuckerberg meet at the Gorki residence outside Moscow. Zuckerberg was in Moscow on a visit to stimulate innovation in Russia and to boost the social network's position in the Russian market. Fullscreen Medvedev and Zuckerberg near Moscow on Oct. 1, 2012. Fullscreen Zuckerberg speaks with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy as he leaves the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris on the closing day of the first "e-G8" summit in 2011. The e-G8 hoped to draw up a declaration for the Group of Eight Leaders who met in northwestern France on May 27 and 28, 2011, covering sensitive issues such as online copyright and censorship. Fullscreen Newark Mayor Cory Booker, left, laughs as Mark Zuckerberg talks about his $100 million donation to help Newark public schools in 2010. Fullscreen Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan were married in Palo Alto, Calif., on May 19, 2012. The ceremony took place in Zuckerberg's backyard before guests who all thought they were there to celebrate Chan's graduation from medical school. The couple met while attending Harvard University. Fullscreen Zuckerberg and Chan welcomed their new daughter, Max, in 2015. The philanthropists announced they would give away 99% of their Facebook stock, worth $45 billion. The couple welcomed their second daughter in 2017. Fullscreen Zuckerberg and Obama at a town hall meeting on April 20, 2011, at Face book headquarters in Palo Alto. Fullscreen Zuckerberg on a screen in Times Square moments after he rang the Opening Bell for the Nasdaq on May 18, 2012. When the social network site began trading, its 421 million shares were $38 each. Fullscreen Mark Zuckerberg on the cover of the September 2015 "Vanity Fair." Fullscreen 'TIME' names Mark Zuckerberg their 2010 TIME Person of the Year. Fullscreen You've hit it big time when you're a subject of a comic book! This is a preview image for the Mark Zuckerberg Facebook comic book. Fullscreen Zuckerberg's thorny journey to Facebook CEO was depict ed by Jesse Eisenberg in the movie 'The Social Network.' Zuckerberg wasn't thrilled with the portrayal. Fullscreen Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook home page on Oct. 18, 2010. "The Wall Street Journal" reported many popular applications on Facebook were violating the social network's rules and transmitting identifying information about users to advertising and Internet tracking companies. The newspaper said it conducted an investigation and found that the issue affected tens of millions of Facebook application users, including people who set their profiles to be completely private. Randi Zuckerberg, the sister of co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, told reporters at a forum in Dubai on Oct. 17, 2010, that privacy was the company's top concern and it would continue to give people more controls. Fullscreen This Feb . 5, 2007, file photo shows Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's boyish appearance. It is a reminder of just how young he was when he created what would become the worldÂ's biggest social network back in his dorm room at Harvard. Â"I didn't know anything about building a company or global internet service,Â" he wrote in January. Â"Over the years I've made almost every mistake you can imagine.Â" FullscreenReplay
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Ridding Facebook of election meddling is part of a widening campaign to rebuild consumer trust after the personal information of 87 million users was harvested by Cambridge Analytica without their permission.

Cambridge Analytica capped a tumultuous period for Facebook, which has been dragged down by one damaging revelation after another, from the proliferation of fabricated news and hoaxes to violence on its Live streaming service.

In February, special counsel Robert Mueller filed criminal charges against 13 Russian nationals and three businesses for a wide-ranging effort to undermine the presidential election, including actions aimed at boosting Trump's campaign. Federal law bars foreign interests from making campaign contributions or otherwise working to influence U.S. elections.

The charges included conspiracy, identity theft, failing to register as foreign agents, and violating laws that limit the use of foreign money in U. S. elections. One of the companies that was charged was the Internet Research Agency, which prosecutors accuse of waging "information warfare" against the United States with the goal of "spreading distrust toward the candidates and the political system."

Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and possible obstruction of justice by the president. In addition to Mueller's probe, three congressional committees have been conducting their own Russia investigations.

Both the House and Senate intelligence committees have investigated Russia's manipulation of social media, which the Kremlin continued even after the 2016 election.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is continuing its investigation, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has been conducting a more limited probe.

Republicans on the House Intelligence committee recently concluded their inv estigation, finding no signs that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The panel's Democrats are continuing to investigate on their own.

Last fall, representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google appeared before two intelligence committees to talk about Russia's manipulation of their platforms. A sampling of Facebook ads paid for by the Internet Research Agency were released at those hearings, but the bulk of the ads had to be scrubbed of personally identifiable information before they could be publicly released.

The Democrats said they decided to release the Facebook ads Thursday because they had promised to make them public over the objections of Republicans.

More: Facebook aim to fight election manipulation misses a big problem, critics say

More: Facebook, Google may face new rules for political ads, as U.S. grapples with foreign influence

More: Facebook's Zuckerberg says h e's 'dead serious' about Russia, warns security spending will hurt profits

More: Russia exploited race divisions on Facebook. More black staffers, diversity could have have helped.

Late last year, Zuckerberg told USA TODAY he was not sure if Facebook could prevent the problems of the 2016 presidential campaign from recurring in this year's elections.

"We have a pretty good track record as a company of â€" once we set our mind to doing something, we eventually get it done," the Facebook CEO said in November. But, he conceded, "I don't know how long it will take to address this."

In April, Zuckerberg, who initially dismissed the idea that misinformation on Facebook played a role in the outcome of the presidential election, said: "We're committed to getting this done in time for the critical months before the 2018 elections."

Marco della Cava in San Francisco contributed to th is report

Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2rx6QAUSource: Google News

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