WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House intelligence committee have released more than 3,500 Facebook ads that were created or promoted by a Russian internet agency, providing the fullest picture yet of Russia’s attempt to sow racial and political division in the U.S. before and after the 2016 election.
Most of the ads are issue-based, pushing arguments for and against immigration, LGBT issues and gun rights, among other issues. A large number of them attempt to stoke racial divisions by mentioning police brutality or disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement. Some promote President Trump or Bernie Sanders, who ran against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. Few, if any, support Clinton.
The intelligence committee Democrats released a sampling of the ads purchased by Russia’s Internet Research Agency last year, but they are now releasing the full cache of ads that Facebook officials turned over to the panel after acknowledging in September they had discovered the Russian efforts. The release of ads from early 2015 through mid-2017 does not include 80,000 posts that the agency also shared. Some of the ads are partially redacted, part of an effort by Facebook and the committee to protect unsuspecting people whose names or faces were used.
A review of the thousands of ads and their data shows how precisely the agency targeted them.
Donald Trump has blocked the release of a classified memo written by House Democrats about the FBI’s investigation into alleged Russian election interference. “It’s going to be released soon,” Trump had told reporters at the White House earlier on Friday, adding, “We’re going to release a letter.” But White House chief counsel Don McGahn later said it could not be released in its current state “because the memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.” The FBI has been investigating long-standing allegations that Russia under Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 US Presidential election, which saw Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Monday to release the 10-page Democratic Party memo, which is ten pages long. The document was described as a rebuttal to an earlier Republican memo, which claimed the FBI had shown evidence of political bias against Donald Trump.
Some ads designed to appeal to critics of immigration were targeted to users who liked specific Fox News hosts, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, “Old Glory” and the United States Constitution.
Others were more narrowly targeted. Facebook users within 12 miles of Buffalo, N.Y., were directed to an event supporting justice for a black woman who died in a county jail. Another ad criticizing a Texas school teacher who lost her job after making racist remarks was aimed at adults living in Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis and Ferguson, Mo.
As the Russians attempted to pose as Americans, their language sometimes hinted at their origin. One ad railed against immigrants who “should prove that they are deserved to stay in the United States.” Another read: “Your life matter. My life matter. Black matters.”
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, said he was releasing the ads so it doesn’t happen again.
“The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see firsthand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us,” he said.
Mary Clare Jalonick is an Associated Press writer.
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