The House and Senate Intelligence committees released a sampling of the 3,000 or so Russian ads that appeared on Facebook during the 2016 campaign and its aftermath. The Washington Post covers the release as Russian ads, now publicly released, show sophistication of influence campaign.
The ads that emerged, a sampling of the 3,000 that Russians bought during the 2016 presidential campaign and its aftermath, demonstrated in words and images a striking ability to mimic American political discourse at its most fractious. The targeting information also showed a shrewd understanding of how best to use Facebook to find and influence voters most likely to respond to the pitches.
As a group, the ads made visceral appeals to voters upset about illegal immigration, the declining economic fortunes of coal miners, gun ownership, African American political activism, the rising prominence of Muslims in some U.S. communities and many other issues. Some of the ads, many of which were bought in Russian rubles, also explicitly called for people to attend political rallies amid a campaign season that already was among the most polarizing in recent U.S. history.
But you be the judge:
You have something for everyone. Black, white, Muslim, Christian, open borders, closed borders. They have pro- and anti-Trump, Hillary, and Sanders. I don’t detect the sophisticated understanding of American politics that the Post seems to find.
I’d contend that spending a few minutes on Breitbart, DailyKos, etc., would give you a pretty firm grasp of the most divisive issues. And, look, the issues are legitimate points of contention. Nothing here is made up by Moscow; all of these issues we, as Americans, own.
Facebook has identified these ads, it appears, because they were purchased using rubles. This points to a larger issue in policing the social media advertising eco-system. What happens when Russia forms 501(c)4s and pays for ads in dollars? The subjects and themes are, maybe with the exception of arm-wrestling-Jesus, pretty standard fare on the issue ads and public education campaigns run by (c)4s.
Unless the major social media players spend a crap-ton of money on due diligence investigations of small advertisers, it is hard to see how it is possible to change things and retain anything like free speech. What brings me to the last point. What the Democrats are obviously angling for here is for Facebook and its cohorts to vet ads and issues.
Think of this as how the Democrats go after the Second Amendment after any shooting. They want that to happen because it is becoming obvious that right-of-center groups are getting pretty good at using those media.
You don’t have to approve of Russian meddling in our political system to also realize that the solution here could end up being a helluva lot worse than the problem.