It's impossible to know just how much stuff being circulated on social networks is Russian state content in sheep's clothing, although tech companies are scrambling to figure that out. Now, thanks to Congress, we just got a rare peek behind the curtain of how Facebook's ad operations were manipulated by a foreign power to foment outrage and division in American society.
Today the House Intelligence Committee published a selection of Facebook and Instagram political ads that were bought by entities linked to the Russian government. All of these ads appealed to divisions in American society, often falling along political and identity-based fault lines. The committee signaled last month that it would be releasing all 3,000 of the ads that Facebook had provided, but instead it opted to share a sample of around 25 U.S. political and issue-based ad buys with Russian government links. (We've collected those here in one place so you don't have to deal with the PDFs.)
As the chart below illustrates, no one was exempt. The Russian ads targeted the far left and the far right, seeking to manipulate black activists, Muslims, Christians, LGBTQ people, gun owners and even fans of Ivanka Trump's jewelry line. Sometimes the ads were targeted by location, organizing real-life events in states like New York and Florida.
As you'd expect, the ad spend positively correlates to how many impressions and clicks a given ad generated, though only a few of these ad campaigns — which are not by any means all of the ads — cost much over $1,000.
We've known some of this, but today we got to see not just a representative sample of the ads themselves, but how much they cost, who exactly they targeted and how well they performed. It's interesting stuff, so we collected it into a sortable chart with links to images of the ads so you can see for yourself.